Coriander seeds, which are called cilantro seeds in some parts of the world, are very different from the plant’s pungent leaves. Many people who find the leaves unpalatable can happily consume sauces containing the seeds, which are one of the most-used spices in Indian curry powder. They are also used in many other cuisines to add a spicy and fragrant taste to dishes. They have many health benefits as well as culinary uses. Some of these are as follows:
Coriander has a historical role in treating diabetes, and its believed that the plant’s natural properties help to regulate the body’s insulin supply. At the moment, scientific research into the area is in its infancy – however, initial studies on mice support the notion that coriander can reduce blood sugar level. However, diabetics should check with their doctor and not rely on coriander seeds instead of their prescribed medication.
Coriander is also very good for various stomach problems. The high fibre content of the spice means that it helps with constipation – for best effect, try consuming a lentil curry with plenty of coriander in the spice base. It is also a useful ingredient to use against flatulence. Coriander can also settle your stomach, and helps to prevent indigestion. Conversely, coriander may also be able to reduce the likelihood of diarrhoea and food poisoning.
High cholesterol levels are also said to be improved by the consumption of coriander seeds, as they are believed boost the production of ‘good’ cholesterol and reduce the production of ‘bad’ cholesterol. These properties mean that coriander can help to guard against cancer and heart disease. Preliminary research suggests that coriander may be of particular use against colon cancer, although scientific research in this area is limited.
Another way that coriander can be used to reduce the risk of heart disease is through its flavour. Foods flavoured with coriander and other spices are more satisfying than bland food – where you be be tempted to add more oil or fat to make it taste better. Increasing the spice content of a dish means that you have to add relatively little fat to enjoy a full flavoured meal. While this won’t work with your average takeaway curry, it is true that you can make very appetising and tasty meals using spices and very little fat.
Some ancient societies, including ancient Greeks, believed that coriander acts as an aphrodisiac, and added it to wine to help things along later in the evening! There’s little scientific evidence to whether or not this works. It’s worth a try – although coriander seeds may be more palatable as an ingredient in mulled wine, rather than the traditional Greek method of adding it to white wine.
Coriander seeds are traditionally used to combat bad breath. If you have halitosis then a visit to your dentist is a good idea to check for underlying causes, but try chewing on a small number of coriander seeds to cover the worst of the symptom.
Coriander seeds are also said to reduce the impact of heavy menstrual periods. Try boiling a couple of teaspoons of coriander in water, straining the water, adding sugar and then drinking the resulting mixture in the run up to your period to see if it works.
The essential oils and acids contained in coriander seeds are said to be at the heart of many of its health benefits, and also are the source of coriander’s distinctive flavour. To release the essential oils, which are very aromatic, try toasting a small amount of coriander seeds in a dry frying pan. Remove the seeds from the heat after their aroma begins to release, but before they burn – you’ll need to keep a close eye on them.
In addition to their use as a base for curries and marinades, coriander seeds can also be toasted and used in salads. Coriander seeds are found everywhere, and you’ll find both ground and whole spices in your local supermarket . However, storing them as whole seeds means that the essential oils, which are crucial for many health benefits, will be better preserved. If you buy whole seeds, you are likely to need a spice grinder or a pestle and mortar to grind the spices as needed. Coriander seeds are sold as in Asian food shops as ’dhania’, or a similarly spelled variant thereof.