Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum), the fresh leaves of coriander, originated in southern Europe and Asia. The leafy herb was brought by Spanish conquistadors to Mexico in the 1500s and to the United States soon after. Sometimes referred to as Chinese 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 family, including celery, cumin, carrots, and parsley. An annual, cilantro has a bold, citrusy taste and is used as an herb. The dried seeds of the same plant, coriander, are used as a spice and possess a distinctively different flavor.
While produced in nearly every country across the globe, the herb’s most significant growing regions are the United States and Mexico. The latter is the world’s top exporter; in the United States, California is the top producer followed distantly by Arizona, Oregon, and Washington.
Types & Varieties
There are numerous varieties of cilantro including Leisure, Slo Bolt, Caribe, California Long Standing, Jantar, Santos, Terra, Costa Rica, Lemon, Delfino, and Moroccan. Jantar and Santos are “bolt-resistant” varieties, which keep plants from flowering due to overly warm temperatures.
While cilantro can be grown in a variety of climates, temperatures between 50 and 80°F are ideal. Plants can survive a minor frost, but not exposure to high temperatures.
Cilantro is grown year-round in California where the largest harvests occur from March through mid-November. In Coachella Valley and Yuma, Arizona, it is harvested November through March, and in Oregon and Washington, it is grown from May through November.
Once germinated, seedlings need approximately one inch of water per week for optimal foliage growth and development. Furrows or drip tape will prevent overwatering and disease. Plants are usually ready for harvest 40 to 45 days after seeding.
Cilantro is most often harvested by hand. Field workers use a small, rounded knife to slice the plant at the ground, create tied bunches, and cut the bottom in a straight line. In some cases, cilantro destined for foodservice or processing is harvested mechanically. Much like other leafy greens, cilantro has a relatively high respiration rate. To maintain optimal postharvest quality, harvesting during cool temperatures (early in the morning or the evening) is best.