Friday, June 04, 2010
CILANTRO FOR CILANTROPHOBES
The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (6/3/10)
Julia Child, the late mother goddess of home-cooked French cuisine suffered from cilantrophobia. She once told Larry King that cilantro and arugula "have kind of a dead taste to me." Indeed, if she ever found cilantro on her plate in a restaurant, she "would pick it out if I saw it and throw it on the floor."
While she may be right about arugula, there is a remedy for her cilantrophobia. The Oxford Companion to Food reports that the aroma of cilantro is comparable to “the smell of bug-infested bedclothes," an odor I recall creeping out of my straw-ticking mattress while tracking miscreants and saboteurs in the Alaskan wilderness. Other cilantrophobes compare the odor of cilantro to hand lotion or soap suds. Pliny the Younger (61 to 112 A.D.), a Roman Senator noted for his well-written letters, wrote that the word “coriandrum,” the seed of the cilantro plant, comes from the Greek word for bedbug, “koris.”
The culprit, according to The New York Times, is "modified fragments of fat molecules called aldehydes." These fat molecules are used in making soap, and many insects make them to attract or repel other creatures. Thus, cilantro’s smell is akin to the aroma of bedbugs in the throes of concupiscence, a thoroughly disagreeable association. But what to do? Chop the cilantro! Chopping the leaves allows the “leaf enzymes the chance to covert the aldehydes into other substances with no aroma."
Having cleared the stink hurdle, the next issue is growing cilantro, which is relatively easy in Flagstaff and the High Country because it’s a cool season herb which doesn't like high humidity. However, transplanting cilantro is a little chancy because of its long roots. Hence, buying cilantro plants at a commercial nursery may be a waste of money.
First off, cilantro can either be grown in a pot or a plot. If pots are used, they should be deep enough for its long roots. The pots should be about 18 inches wide and 10 inches deep and filled with potting soil and organic fertilizer. Before seeding, moisten the soil and then mix the seeds with some sand. After sowing the seeds, mist the soil. When the first cuttable leaves appear, cut only part of the crop, and then, rotating the pot, harvest another part of the crop each time cilantro is wanted, eventually going back to the first cutting. Don’t use pesticides!
Cilantro is a fast-grower so the tasty leaves aren't around very long before the plants go to seed. If a gardener wants a continuous crop of leaves and is planting in a plot, the seeds should be sown every few weeks for a continuous supply. The seeds should be sown about ¼ inch deep, a few inches apart in soft friable, well-composted soil, and watered regularly. The plants flourish best with morning sun and afternoon shade. They’re good companions for spinach, beans, and peas and repel both aphids and spider mites.
If they go to seed, the mature seed is called coriander and can be harvested and dried. Before they’re dried, the seeds have an unpleasant aroma, but, dried, the seeds have a lemony citrus flavor. So the cilantro or coriander plant produces both an herb in its leaves called cilantro and a spice in its seeds called coriander. So, cilantro’s good for salsa as well as pesto.
Pliny the Younger also wrote that coriandrum originated in Egypt which is confirmed by its presence in the tombs of the Pharaohs. The Scriptures in Exodus report that the coriander seed is similar in appearance to manna. Thus cilantro was used earlier than basil in Mediterranean cuisine.
Cilantro is good for the body as well as the palate. It helps with the pain of arthritis as an anti-inflammatory in addition to serving as an aid to digestion and as a carminative, releasing flatulence. The most surprising medicinal use is with heavy metals, such as mercury. The chemical compounds in cilantro bind with heavy metals, loosening them from the tissues, and releasing them through elimination. So, in addition to getting the gas out, eating cilantro gets the lead out.
Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2010