"And the house of Israel called the name thereof Manna: and it was like Coriander seed, white"
--Exodus, 16:31

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Cilantro, aka Coriander

(Coriandrum sativum)

This member of the carrot family, native to Southern Europe, has been cultivated for thousands of years by many, many cultures. And no wonder--what an outstanding flavor! It was one of the bitter herbs ordained to be eaten at the Passover. In Egypt, where it was largely cultivated in ancient times, the seeds were bruised to mix with bread. It was brought to England by Romans and was served in Tudor times in a highly spiced wedding drink called Hippocras.

Commonly, the leaves of this annual plant are called cilantro, a Spanish name--while the seeds take their name from the Greek koros, or "bug," for their reputedly "buggy" smell while still unripe.

In many cultures, cilantro/coriander is regarded as an aphrodisiac--and, indeed, if consumed in large quantities, it acts as a narcotic. Its crushed seeds--which now primarily come from Morocco and Romania--are today used to flavor gin, liqueurs, hotdogs, chewing gum, and cigarettes. Traditionally, they are reputed to combat flatulence. And Arab women still chew them to ease labor pains. Today, in leaf and seed form, it's used most commonly in the cuisines of Mexican, North African, and Oriental countries.

When you find cilantro leaves fresh in the market, take them home and wrap them in paper towels before sticking them in a plastic bag--they'll keep for a long time that way. Dusty Behler, chef and owner of Redi-base professional soup bases, improves on this by advising you stick it like a bouquet in a glass of water and keeping it uncovered in the fridge. Same with parsley and other herbs.