The health benefits of fresh herbs are often overlooked; however, they can be just as essential to a healthy diet as fruits and vegetables thanks to their high antioxidant content.
Learning how to use fresh herbs and spices like cilantro to flavor food can also help to cut down on sodium intake.
In this article, we will give a brief history of cilantro, describe its nutritional content, and discuss possible health benefits.
Fast facts on cilantro
Here are some key points about cilantro. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.
- There is archaeological evidence that cilantro has been enjoyed for thousands of years
- Cilantro contains chemicals that help foods stay fresher for longer
- One-fourth of a cup of cilantro contains 5 percent of the daily value of vitamin A
What is cilantro?
Learning how to use fresh herbs and spices like cilantro can help to cut down on sodium intake.
Cilantro is an annual herb from the family Apiaceae, which contains 3,700 species including carrots, celery, and parsley.
All parts of the plant are edible, but the fresh leaves and dried seeds are most commonly used in cooking.
Often known in the United Kingdom as coriander, cilantro comes from the plant Coriandrum sativum.
In the United States, the leaves of the plant are referred to as cilantro (the Spanish translation) and the seeds are called coriander. Cilantro is also commonly known as Chinese parsley.
This article focuses on the health benefits of the leaves of the Coriandrum plant.
Cilantro has been a part of human cuisine for a long time. Dried traces of cilantro were found in a cave in Israel that dated to around 6,000 BC. Remnants have also been found in ancient Egypt, showing that its use was widespread even in ancient civilizations.
Moving forward a few thousand years, cilantro was brought to the early British colonies in North America in 1670, making it one of the first spices to be cultivated by the early settlers.
Possible health benefits of cilantro
Consuming plant-based foods of all kinds has long been associated with a reduced risk of many lifestyle-related health conditions.
Some studies suggest that increasing consumption of plant foods like cilantro decreases the risk of obesity, overall mortality, diabetes, and heart disease while promoting healthy skin and hair, increased energy, and overall lower weight.
Due to its high antioxidant content, oil extracted from the leaves of cilantro has been shown to inhibit unwanted oxidation when added to other foods, delaying or preventing spoilage.
A compound found in the leaves and seeds of cilantro – dodecanal – has also been found to have an antibacterial effect against Salmonella. In laboratory tests, dodecanal was twice as efficient at killing Salmonella than the commonly used medicinal antibiotic gentamicin.
“We were surprised that dodecanal was such a potent antibiotic. The study suggests that people should eat more salsa with their food, especially fresh salsa.”
Isao Kubo, lead researcher
Cilantro has been found to suppress lead accumulation in rats, which gives promise for the use of cilantro to combat lead and other heavy metal toxicity. Because of its chelation abilities, cilantro is also being studied as a natural water purifier.
The antimicrobial and heavy metal chelation factors of cilantro have led to its recent use in many “detoxification” juices and drinks.
Nutritional breakdown of cilantro
One-fourth cup of cilantro (about 4 grams) contains:
- 1 calorie
- 0 grams of fat
- 0 grams of carbs
- 0 grams of protein
- 2 percent daily value of vitamin C
- 5 percent daily value of vitamin A
Cilantro also contains vitamin K and small amounts of folate, potassium, manganese, and choline, as well as the antioxidants beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lutein, and zeaxanthin.
How to incorporate more cilantro into your diet
Adding cilantro is a great way to add flavor to a dish or beverage without adding extra calories, fat, or sodium.
Cilantro is a tender herb (along with mint and basil) which has gentle leaves that are best to add either raw or near the end of cooking in order to maintain their delicate flavor and texture.
Cilantro is relatively easy to grow and can thrive in small pots on a sunny windowsill.
When preparing cilantro, separate the leaves from the stems and only use the leaves. Use a sharp knife and cut gently.
Cutting with a dull knife or over-chopping will bruise the herb, and much of the flavor will be misplaced onto the cutting board surface.
Cilantro pairs well with many dishes, especially Mexican or Thai dishes and those with beans, cheese, eggs, and fish. Cilantro is also great with creamy vegetable dips and as a topping or garnishes for soups and salads.
Take a look at these healthful recipes using cilantro and experiment with cilantro in your own recipes at home:
- Cilantro-lime tuna burgers
- Healthy two-grain southwest salad
- One pot lentil lunch
- Black bean burgers with chipotle mango guacamole
- Spicy Thai lettuce wraps
- Creamy poblano avocado pasta
It is fine to use dried herbs and spices as well. One study from the UCLA School of Medicine reported that nine popular herbs and spices, including cilantro, dill, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, oregano, and parsley, were able to retain their antioxidant capacity during the drying process.
Possible health risks of consuming cilantro
It is the total diet or overall eating pattern that is most important in disease prevention and achieving good health. It is better to eat a diet with variety than to concentrate on individual foods as the key to good health.