(Last Updated on : 06/06/2012)
What comes to mind just after one hears the term `coriander` is just not the taste of the coriander chutney but the tinge of the coriander seeds tossed for its aroma, the savor of the coriander sherbet doused with the divine touch of coriander! And possibly all the mentioned ones, and also the umpteen other groundbreaking recipes of this deliciously Oriental herb, called Coriander. The plant, although much thinner compared to its various other cousins and counterparts, commands much more attention and respect, owing to its sheer diversified and multi-faceted properties in practically every sphere of daily living. Although opinion might differ, banters might be raised as to coriander`s utility, with some feeling it containing a pungent odour, much of the Indian culinary gang generally swear by the plant Dhania (the Hindi name of coriander). The zest, the tang, the smack, the zing that coriander exudes in each of its methodical preparation, does definitely call for a detailed understanding of what this heavenly herb can actually produce and has produced since prehistoric times.
Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) can be described as a yearly and perennial herb, belonging to the family Apiaceae. Outside India, coriander serves as a native herb to south-western Asia and also of North Africa. It is a soft plant with a sweet smell, possessing no hair, growing up to a height of 50 cm (20 inches). The leaves are erratic and inconsistent in shape, lobed in a spacious manner at the base of the plant and lean and feathered on the higher side on the flowering stems. The flowers of coriander are contained within small umbels, bearing white or very pallid pink colours, asymmetric in appearance, with the petals directed away from the centre of the umbel (5-6 mm), which are comparatively longer than those petals pointing towards the middle of the umbel (barely 1-3 mm long). The fruit of coriander bears a globular dry schizocarp, with 3-5 mm in length in diameter. The seeds of this perpetual herb are balmy, soft and sweetish in flavour and taste; there exists a citrus tinge hidden within the seeds, much akin to orange peel. The Indian version of coriander comprises an essential oil, which stimulates irritation when in contact with skin for prolonged times. Leaving the essential oil, the seeds also consist of fatty oil.
The name `coriander` has been deduced from French coriander, all the way through Latin "coriandrum", which in turn was derived from Greek kopis. This special herb is also acknowledged as an incredible `Appetite stimulant`. Coriander serves as a native herb of the Mediterranean region, India, Morocco, the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) countries, Hungary, Poland, Rumania, Czechoslovakia, Guatemala, Mexico and the USA. These serve as the most important countries where coriander is grown in a widespread commercial manner. The all-round herb indeed serves as a flourishing crop in the Indian subcontinent, due to the handiness of the necessitated environment and climatic conditions. The foremost producers of coriander in India are the states comprising Gujarat, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Madhya Pradesh. The cultivation of coriander goes back to most ancient species in the Mediterranean region. Coriander, indeed finds pride place and mention in the Holy Bible and has been known and acknowledged since the Middle Ages. It is interesting to note that Sanskrit texts do speak about coriander`s cultivation in ancient India almost 7000 years ago, but few plant fossils exist to back up and corroborate the literary findings.
Coriander leaves (also referred to as coriander green) are hugely admired in almost all parts of Asia and is utilised for its umpteen uses throughout India, Thailand, Vietnam and sections of China in the form of garnishing for an assortment of dishes. Besides the use of leaves for dressing a dish, coriander is also used as the dried ripe fruit of the yearly herb with numerous branches and notched leaves. The aroma of the fruit of this herb is sensed to be warm, nutty and spicy, while the leaves possess a potential odour. As a fragrant spice, coriander in present times is valued as much for its medicinal properties as for its use as an agent of flavouring and seasoning. Coriander finds far-reaching and widespread application in umpteen kinds of foods, beverages, liquors and perfumes and requires absolute and total exposure to sunlight, but with less heat and medium-to-heavy loamy soil, sound drainage and well-distributed moisture. Even the world of ayurveda does not leave out this very multi-faceted herb from its paraphernalia of employments and properties. As such, it can very much be envisaged that the benefits of coriander, in its umpteen utilisations make up for a useful study and ideal reflection.
Coriander seed can mostly be witnessed to be utilised in the form that is thickly ground or more delicately pulverised, depending upon the consistency and quality desired. Preparing and storing this herb calls for necessary and mandatory requirements. It is best bought as a whole grain as, possessing the characteristic of being brittle, coriander is easy to grate or pound in a mortar and pestle. Ground coriander always has the chance to lose its flavour and zest and aroma rapidly and hence, needs to be stored in an opaque airtight container; on the other hand, the whole seeds can be preserved for an indefinite period of time. Their flavour can always be raised by tossing in and roasting prior to its usage. As coriander is a soft herb, it is a spice that needs to be used by the whole fist, rather than just a mere pinch. The leaves of coriander can also be chopped or minced according to one`s wish, before use. They are however also liable to suffer a loss of flavour when dried, but can also be frozen either parboiled or shredded and frozen into ice cubes.
In India, coriander is cultivated in practically all the states and makes up as an important subsidiary crop in the black cotton soils of Deccan and South India (Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu), and the rich silt loam of North India (Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand (previously Uttaranchal), Assam, Bihar, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh etc). In Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, more than one-lakh acres have been devoted to coriander cultivation singly. In a likewise manner, it is grown on a reasonably large scale in Punjab and its adjacent states. Finding its usage in India, in cooking, in producing oils, as a spice, in medicine, in ayurveda, the uses of coriander makes an interesting read, which practically predominates in the culinary and cuisine section, also serving as chutney, as soup, as curry pastes, in making dal, as preparing pickles and the likes.
The Botanical name of coriander is Coriandrum sativum Linn, which is further classed within the Family name of Umbelliferae. Besides the herb`s various overseas names, the Indian names can be mentioned as follows - Dhania in Hindi; Dhane in Bengali; Kothmiri and Libdhana in Gujarati; Kothambri in Kannada; Daaniwal and Kothambalari in Kashmiri; Kothumpalari bija in Malayalam; Dhana in Marathi; Dhania in Oriya; Dhania in Punjabi; Dhanyaka in Sanskrit; Kothamalli in Tamil; Dhaniyalu in Telugu.
Fresh coriander leaves and its seeds are too well known to India and need no unveiling of its base or description., particularly to housewives, as coriander is used almost daily in dozens of curries, numerous dishes and above all, the paste of the leaves is popular as a chutney or sauce. It is believed that the plant was known to India since the Vedic Period , but had turned more popular for its fresh leaves. The then Indians did not make use of its seeds as spice till the Muslims arrived in the Indian scenario to introduce its seeds as a customary spice. That is perhaps the reason why the bulk of coriander seeds is consumed in Mughlai preparations, which are unquestionably of Muslim origin. Practically all parts of the plant, as in its tender stem, the leaves, flowers and the fruits emote a pleasant aromatic odour. The coriander leaves also constitute one of the richest sources of Vitamin C (250 mg/100g.) and Vitamin A (5,200 I.U./100g.). Its use as a seasoning and flavouring in curries and especially as fresh leaves for garnishing of curries and other dishes and in chutney, as a brilliant appetiser is hugely admired. The flowers of this plant yield ample nectar. The sieved `honey` of coriander is known for the taste as well as for its emblematic aroma. The honey is not only rich in vitamins and minerals, but also comprises more of unsaturated sugar as compared to saturated sugar.
Indian coriander is not generally favoured for the distillation of essential oil by some Western countries. This is due to the Indian seeds being low in essential oil and not uniform in colour or its grade. The essential oil is made up of hydrocarbons and oxygenated compounds. The hydrocarbon accounts for about 20 percent of the essential oil. The major oxygenated compounds present, includes: d-linalool or coriandrol (45 to 70 percent). The oil however induces irritation when in contact with skin for an extensive period of time. The entire plant and unripe fruit also yields essential oil. Besides the essential oil, the seed contain 19 to 21 percent of a fatty oil having a dark, brownish green colour and an odour quite similar to that of coriander oil.
The oil, in turn, possesses the following characteristics
The oil solidifies on just letting it to stay still for some time. A type of Sodium soap prepared from the oil possesses a pleasant odour and sound lathering properties; it is soft in consistency and green in colour.
Good quality oleoresin can verily be extracted from the coriander seeds. The oleoresin is in addition, employed for seasoning beverages, pickles, sweets and numerous other delicacies.
Besides the wholesome and astonishing uses, utilisations and application of coriander, it is virtually also used for flavouring pastries, cookies, buns, cakes and tobacco products too! It is in all probability one of the first spices ever to be exercised by mankind, having been acknowledged as early as 5000 B.C., and is one of the most crucial ingredients in the manufacture of the following food flavorings:
Pork, frankfurter, meat, fish and salads
Soda and syrups
Gelatin, dessert and pudding
Candy and preserves
Coriander seeds are very much considered to be carminative, diuretic, tonic, stomachic, antibilious, refrigerant, also serving as an aphrodisiac. Considering its various virtues, it just might also be possible to manufacture a number of medicinal products from the herb. And this certainly does not pose as an understatement. Alcoholic extracts as `mother tincture` of this herb is exceedingly popular amongst the homeopathic professionals. In the contemporary era of technology, it is also possible to preserve and pack the fresh green leaves of coriander as paste or otherwise to market and commercialise it for consumption.
Composition of coriander seeds vary, depending upon its country of origin and the agro climatic conditions under which it is being grown, harvested, dried and stored.
The succeeding typical analysis gives a fair idea of its composition:
|Moisture: 6.3 %
||Carbohydrates: 24.0 %
||Vitamin B1: 0.26 mg/100
|Protein: 1.3 %
||Total ash: 5.3 %
||Vitamin B2: 0.23 mg/100g
|Volatile oil: 0.3 %
||Calcium: 0.08 %
||Niacin: 3.2 mg/100g
|Non-volatile ether extract: 22 %
||Phosphorus: 0.44 %
||Vitamin C (ascorbic acid): 12.0 mg/100g
|Total ether extract (fat): 19.6 %
||Sodium: 0.02 %
||Vitamin A: 175 i.u./100g
|Crude fibre: 31.5 %
||Potassium: 1.2 %
As has been seen before, coriander seed contains substantial quantities of volatile oil, fixed oil, tannins, cellulose, pentosans and pigments.
The fresh coriander leaves further possess the following composition:
|Moisture: 87.9 %
||Total ash: 1.7 %
||Iron: 0.01 %
||Vitamin C (ascorbic acid): 135 mg/100 g
|Protein: 3.3 %
||Calcium: 0.14 %
||Vitamin B2: 60 mg/100g
||Vitamin A: 10,460 I.U./100 g
|Carbohydrates: 6.5 %
||Phosphorus: 0.06 %
||Niacin: 0.8 mg/100 g
The aromatic odour and taste of coriander fruits (seeds) is basically due to the presence of an essential oil. The amount of oil varies considerably according to the source of the fruits - Indian coriander being rather poor in oil content (0.4 to 0.8 percent). On the other hand, the fruits from European countries are generally rich in oil and samples from test plots in Norway have generated as much as 1.4 to 1.7 percent oil and up to 2 percent in Russian coriander. The low oil content of Indian coriander is put forward to be due to the loss of a portion of the volatile oil during the drying of fruits, too much splitting of fruits and faulty harvesting procedure of the already poorer variety of coriander.