Cilantro and Culantro

100_4228 smCilantro is an acquired taste. This strong herb is used in Asian and Central American cooking, and is one of those things you either love or hate.

When I first tasted fresh cilantro (Coriandrum sativum), I will admit I didn’t like it.

It wasn’t until I had culantro—Eryngium foetidum, also known as Mexican coriander—that I really learned to like the flavour (Never mind that the scientific name means ‘foul-smelling thistle’).

In Panama, both are eaten, and though they are only distantly related plants, they serve the same culinary purposes, with similar flavours. Panamanians consider Eryngium foetidum the ‘real’ cilantro, and call it simply culantro. Coriandrum sativum is called culantro Chino (Chinese cilantro).

Culantro grew wild in our lawn in Panama, and we weren’t long in the country before we were eagerly searching it out to flavour our dinners. It was a disappointment to return to the U.S. and find we could only get culantro Chino—positively bland in comparison to the foul-smelling thistle we grew to love.

But we’ve since grown fond of Chinese cilantro, too. It grows year round here. In fact, it’s as much a weed here as culantro was in Panama, and I find it cropping up all over the place. It does a lovely job of providing a year round crop without any work on my part at all. I just need to be open-minded about leaving the ‘weeds’ where they sprout.

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