Culinary likes and dislikes are culturally acquired; vegemite on toast is to Aussie kids what goat’s cheese on baguette is to little Frenchies. Just like language, these likes and dislikes are engrained in us at a young age without our even realising it.
This cultural acclimatisation may go some way towards explaining the great taste divide in the case of coriander. Some love it, others hate it, and there seems to be very little middle ground.
The leaf of the coriander is immensely popular in Southeast Asian cuisine, where i used as a garnish for many soups, curries and stir-fries, while the roots of the plant, with their deeper flavour, are used as the base for curry pastes and soups.
However as the leaves have strayed across into other countries and cuisines the flavour derision has become apparent. Youthful acculturation may play a part in this, but does not explain how this herb divides people from the same family (my Dad and sister both despise it, I find it fresh and pleasing).
Devoid of the bitter compound that offends the palate of “supertasters,” it appears it is the aroma of the leaf that causes the fraction. Those that don’t like it describe the smell as soapy or bug-like. Our sense of taste and smell has traditionally been an important factor in detecting poison and predators. Perhaps this is an issue of evolution and it is their basic survival instincts that are turning people off?
Fortunately the warm, nutty and gentle citrus flavour of the coriander seeds is less controversial. The dried seeds are used in many cuisines; the French use the seeds in the production of liquors such as Chartreuse; the Germans use them to pickle vegetables and to season cabbage and game dishes; the Belgians brew it into some of their wheat beers; in India the seeds are served roasted as a snack and are the basis for curries such as garam masala.
Mentioned in the bible and discovered in Tutankamen’s tomb, it appears it is the seeds that are the crowd pleaser.
Select and store -
Coriander is known as cilantro in the US and also may be referred to as Chinese parsley (although there are no taste similarities to parsley). Coriander should be stored in the fridge, with roots in cold water and a plastic bag over the leaves. Wash carefully before use to remove grit. Seeds should be stored whole, in an air-tight container and kept for up to 6 months. Roasting or heating the seeds will enhance their flavour, meanwhile ground seeds will loose their flavour quickly, thus they should be ground just before use.
Coriander loves –
Prawns, chicken, curry, chilli, fish, citrus, pumpkin, carrots
Coriander seeds love -
Citrus, game, cabbage, pickled vegetables, carrots, pork,
Cooking with coriander –
Mix chopped coriander leaves with 2 tbspns of sesame oil, 1 tbspn fish sauce, 2 tbspns fresh lime juice, 1 tbspn brown sugar and pour over cooked rice noodles. Top with finely chopped red chillies and toasted peanuts.