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Crop of the Week: Cilantro
• In the Yuma area, cilantro is grown on approximately 250 acres as a fresh-cut specialty crop. After harvest, it can be found in grocery stores and restaurants all over the United States.
• Cilantro has a strong, sage-citrus flavor that many find irresistible. Others hate it, perhaps because of an enzyme that changes the way they taste cilantro, a genetic trait that has yet to be fully studied.
• Cilantro is an integral part of many cuisines throughout the world and gaining popularity all the time. It is a perfect addition to Mexican dishes; add it to salsas and bean dips. Mix crushed cilantro into sour cream and use it as a topping for chili, tacos or enchiladas. Sprinkle cilantro over stir-fried vegetables for color and Asian flavor.
• Cilantro, Chinese parsley and fresh coriander leaves are different names for the same plant. Cilantro usually refers to the fresh leaves used as an herb, and coriander to the seeds used as a spice. They are quite different in flavor and cannot be used as substitutes for one another. The roots are also eaten as a vegetable.
• Cilantro is probably one of the first herbs to be used by mankind, perhaps going back as far back as 5000 B.C. It is mentioned in early Sanskrit writings dating from about 1500 B.C. The Romans spread it throughout Europe, and it was one of the first spices to arrive in America. The ancient Hebrews originally used cilantro root as the bitter herb in the symbolic Passover meal.
• Cilantro was mentioned as an aphrodisiac in “Tales of the Arabian Nights.”
• In general, herbs should be fresh-looking, crisp and brightly colored. The fresh coriander herb is best stored in the refrigerator in airtight containers. The leaves do not keep well and should be eaten quickly as they lose their aroma when dried or frozen.
• Before it is used, cilantro should be crushed either by hand or with a mortar and pestle. As heat diminishes their flavor quickly, cilantro leaves are often used raw or added to the dish right before serving.
• The flowers of cilantro are white or very pale pink, asymmetrical, with the petals pointing away from the center.
• Cilantro essential oil showed a delay in E. coli growth, suggesting possible agricultural antibacterial applications.
• Cilantro is a member of the Umbelliferae family, which includes carrots and parsley.
Source: Kurt Nolte is an agriculture agent and Yuma County Cooperative Extension director. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 726-3904.