Culantro: Jewel of Caribbean/West Indian Cuisine and Its Medicinal Applications
Culantro is a biennial herb grown throughout the Caribbean, the West Indies and Central America. While it is widely used as a food flavoring and seasoning herb for meat and many other foods in various Caribbean and West Indian countries, it is also known commonly for it’s medicinal qualities. It is also a key in Puerto Rican and Cuban cuisines .
Culantro is more penetrating in flavor than cilantro. On it’s spine-like leaves are tiny edges which make harvesting a unique and sometimes unpleasant experience. (1)
Culantro (Eryngium foetidum) and Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) and what is commonly known as Coriander are not one and the same plant. But they are related and considered not too distant cousins. Culantro (broad leaf variety), is native to Latin America, the West Indies and the Caribbean. It is primarily distinguished from it’s cilantro and coriander cousins by it’s long, stiff and sharp serrated leaves which make harvesting sometimes very unpleasant.
In Vietnam and the rest of Asia, culantro is also known and is most popular in Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore, where it is commonly used with or instead of cilantro for soups, noodle dishes, and curries. In recent times, because of the presence of increasingly large West Indian, Latin American, and Asian immigrant communities in metropolises of the US, Canada and the UK, there has been created a large market for culantro and large quantities are today exported from Puerto Rico, the Caribbean and Trinidad in the West Indies to these areas.
Nutrient Value and Composition
Culantro is rich in calcium, iron, carotene, and riboflavin. Fresh leaves are 86-88% moisture, 3.3% protein, 0.6% fat, 6.5% carbohydrate, 1.7% ash, 0.06% phosphorus, and 0.02% iron. They are also an excellent source of vitamin A (10,460 I.U./100 g), B2 (60 mg %), B1 (0.8 mg %), and C (150-200 mg %) (Bautista et al. 1988). It is this richness in it's medicinal properties which make culantro a choice herb for curative applications.
Typical Applications and Medicinal Uses
Among other things, the Vietnamese use it to wrap other foods, as one would wrap food in plantain leaves or cabbage leaves. At one time, candied culantro seeds were popular in eighteenth-century Britain as a tonic, a cough remedy, and an aphrodisiac.
Its medicinal value applications includes its use as a tea for flu, diabetes, constipation, vomiting, diarrhea and principally in Jamaica for colds. In the Caribbean and West Indian cuisine, its most popular uses is in chutney as an appetite stimulant. It is also used for it’s supposedly anti-convulsive properties, especially in children.
The leaves and roots are boiled and the water drunk for treating pneumonia, flu, diabetes, constipation, and malaria fever. The root can be chewed for cutting the poison from scorpion stings and in India the root is reportedly used to alleviate stomach pains. The leaves themselves can be eaten to stimulate appetite and are used in Jamaica and the West Indies for this purpose. The cilantro leaves can be used to prepare a variety salsas, gravies, barbecued foods and even appetizing drinks. (2)
It is a curious fact that in warmer climates, Zone 7 and above, the actual culantro plant can be reseeded and grown commercially. The typical manner in harvesting the leaves is to simply cut them off at the base as they appear. In zones 7 and below the climate is more appropriately seasonal for cilantro. However, many people buy the plant expecting it to bear leaves for an extended period, and they are disappointed to find that culantro it will not. The reason is true culantro, in heat, is working to expend it's energies to go to seed, coriander.
Leaves are actually herbs while seeds are spice, as a general rule, just as culantro, cilantro and coriander are two different animals. Adding to the apparent confusion of many persons is that culantro is known by so many, many names such as: Puerto Rican coriander, Black Benny, saw leaf herb, Mexican coriander, Saw tooth coriander, long coriander, Spiny coriander, Fitweed, and spiritweed. In Puerto Rico it is known as recao.
Culantro thrives under well-watered, shady conditions. It like moisture but does not do well soaked. It likes the sun but only partial sun. Because it prefers the shade or partial sun, it’s love of warm weather makes it a good substitute for the cool weather loving cilantro. Culantro is the answer for those who enjoy cilantro but live in a hot/warm climate and want fresh culantro all spring/summer and fall.
Culantro can be planted in pots or on the ground. If planted in the ground, this herb will continue to reproduce for an endless supply, into infinity almost. Culantro is relatively pest and disease free. It is rumored to be attractive to beneficial insects such as ladybugs, green lacewings, and to provide an excellent defense in the garden against aphids. (3)
To harvest, remove the oldest leaves all the way down to the base of the plant leaving the young new leaves to grow. The leaves can be chopped and used fresh or frozen to keep their flavor. Unlike cilantro, culantro doesn't bolt, it will produce tiny black seeds which when simply thrown in the ground will produce more abundant culantro.
In cooking it is used to flavor salsa, softrito, chutney, ceviche, sauces, rice, stews, and soups.
Make Mexican pico de gallo by combining chopped tomatoes, green chiles, onion, lime juice, and plenty of chopped cilantro. Season Cuban black beans and Puerto Rican pink beans with culantro. Add Vietnamese coriander at the last minute to Vietnamese soups and Malaysian noodle dishes.
Food Affinities Photo: Courtesy Wikipedia
Cilantro: (can be used interchangably with culantro). Avocado, beef, ceviche, chicken, chiles, ginger, lime, onion, pork, pumpkin seed, shrimp, tomato, turkey.
Culantro: Annatto, black beans, chiles, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, scallion, sesame oil, wild lime leaf.
Vietnamese coriander: Bean sprouts, celery, chicken, chiles, coconut milk, crab, seafood, shrimp paste.
Simple Recipe for Pico de Gallo
In Mexican cuisine, pico de gallo (Spanish for "rooster's beak"), is also called salsa fresca and is a fresh, uncooked condiment made from chopped tomato, onion, and sometimes chilis (typically jalapeños or serranos). Other ingredients may also be added, such as lemon or lime juice, fresh cilantro (coriander leaf), cucumber, radish or other fresh firm pulpy fruit such as mango.
Pico de gallo can be used in much the same way as other Mexican salsas, or Indian chutneys, but since it contains less liquid, it can also be used as a main ingredient in dishes such as tacos and fajitas. Simply chop all ingredients and mix together adding lemon or lime juice. Add hot sauce, salt and pepper to taste.
(2) Bob Johnson,http://EzineArticles.com/?expert=Bob_G_Johnson
(3) Bob Johnson,http://EzineArticles.com/?expert=Bob_G_Johnson
Authored by Beverly Anne Sanchez, Factoidz, 2010