Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum), the fresh leaves of the coriander herb, originated in southern Europe and Asia. Spanish conquistadors brought the leafy herb to Mexico in the 1500s and to the United States soon after. Sometimes referred to as “Chinese parsley” or “Mexican parsley,” cilantro has become a staple in Mexican and Tex-Mex dishes, and is also commonly used in Asian cuisine.
Cilantro is a member of the Apiaceae botanical family, which includes other fragrant flowering plants such as celery, cumin, carrots, and parsley. An annual plant, cilantro has a bold, citrusy taste and is used as an herb. The dried seeds of the same plant, called coriander, are used as a spice and possess a very different flavor.
While cilantro’s smooth, pale green leaves closely resemble parsley, the two herbs taste nothing alike. Cilantro is often used in salsas, sauces, soups, and salads or sprinkled on burritos and other Latin American dishes. When cooked, the herb’s distinctively sharp flavor is magnified.
While produced in nearly every country across the globe, the herb’s most significant growing regions are located in California and Mexico. The latter is the world’s top exporter; in the United States, California is the number one producer, followed distantly by Arizona, Oregon, and Washington.
References: Herb Society of America, USDA, Western Institute for Food Safety & Security, Worldcrops.org.
TYPES, VARIETIES & CUTS
There are numerous varieties of cilantro including Leisure, Slo Bolt, Caribe, California Long Standing, Jantar, Santos, Terra, Costa Rica, Lemon, Delfino, and Moroccan. Most varieties are grown during spring, summer, and fall, but the popular Santos can also be grown in winter months. Jantar and Santos are both known as “bolt-resistant” varieties, which help keep the herb from flowering due to overly warm temperatures.
References: Herb Society of America, University of Illinois Extension, Utah State University Extension, Worldcrops.org.
PESTS & DISEASE
Bacterial leaf spot is a seed-borne disease that causes dark, water-soaked spots on leaves which quickly turn dark brown and sometimes black. They can be seen on both the top and bottom sides of leaves. If severe, foliage can take on a blighted appearance as the spots merge. The disease progresses rapidly during wet weather, and crops with significant damage are unmarketable.
Apium virus Y results in spotted patterns and small distortions on leaves. Plants affected by the disease are often stunted. The disease has been reported in California’s Central Coast region.
Carrot motley dwarf affects both cilantro and parsley. The disease is caused by the combined infection of two viruses: carrot redleaf virus and carrot mottle virus. Plants infected in the seedling stage will be severely stunted and foliage may be yellow, orange, or red in color.