Coriander – the ongoing soap opera surrounding that other controversial herb

19 February, 2021

Just why is this herb so polarising?

At the mere mention of the word coriander – or cilantro as it’s known in some parts of the world – you’re likely to be met with completely polarising views. So much so that February 24 is international ‘I Hate Coriander Day’. Nope, not even kidding. There’s even an online store where you can buy your ‘I Hate Coriander’ merch.

So, what is it about this herb that causes such a passionate response in people? Could it be genetic?

It’s been around forever

This delicious herb (yep, now you know our thoughts on the matter) is used to flavour dishes across the globe. The whole plant is used in various dishes, from the leaves and roots through to the seeds. Common in African spice blends like Egyptian dukkah and Ethiopian berbere and used across Mexico and Latin America as a seasoning, it’s mostly commonly associated in our part of the world with Asian and Indian cuisines. 

Thought to be originally native to the Mediterranean and southwestern Europe, coriander was written about in the Old Testament, referenced in ancient Sanskrit writings and has even been found in Egyptian tombs. 

That’s some pretty fancy heritage for such a divisive little plant.

What does it taste like and how to replace it in cooking

Fresh coriander should taste refreshing, a bit spicy, a bit citrusy and a little tart with a sweet floral aroma that releases when toasted. 

Of course, some people say it tastes like soap and should be taken away from them as soon as possible (but more on that later).

If don’t have any, or run out of, coriander, you can replace the seeds with cumin, fennel, curry powder, garam masala or caraway seeds. You can find all these ingredients at Woolworths and Asian City groceries. The leaves really do have a distinct flavour, but depending on the cuisine you are cooking, you can play around with other soft-leaf herbs like parsley, mint and basil, but it probably won’t create the same final result. 

Keen to let someone else pepper your meal with coriander? We recommend the beef rendang pie from General Chao and any one of the yummy Vietnamese offerings from our friends at Saigon Rolls.

 If you hate coriander, it could be in your genes

Studies have shown those who report coriander tastes like soap due to their genetic makeup. These people have a genetic variation that lets them detect the soapy flavoured aldehydes in coriander leaves. Only a small percentage of the population have this genetic quirk and, unsurprisingly, it’s not often found in areas of the world where coriander is a popular herb.

Coriander is good for you

Coriander not only tastes delicious (don’t come at me now!) but has some surprising health benefits. As more people turn to alternative and natural medicines, more studies are showing the benefits of so many herbs and spices. Including coriander (sorry haters).

Antioxidants –  coriander is rich in immune-boosting antioxidants that help fight inflammation in your body.

It may help lower blood sugar – and is so effective that people with low blood sugar or diabetes should eat coriander with caution. 

Heart health – some studies suggest coriander may lower heart disease risk factors such as LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and high blood pressure. 

Brain health – coriander’s anti-inflammatory properties may help with brain diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and MS (Multiple Sclerosis) 

Gut health – coriander may help promote healthy digestion and can aid in the discomfort of IBS (irritable bowel syndrome).

So, while you celebrate “I Hate Coriander Day” on February 24, take just a moment to acknowledge the power this one little green herb has had – and continues to have – over humans for at least 5000 years.