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July 19, 2007

You Say Cilantro, I say Culantro...

Q - What in the heck is culantro? Is it a mispronunciation of cilantro orFigure 1 something completely different?

A - OK, you caught me! I asked that question myself. Why? Cause I ran across culantro for the first time a few weeks ago, and wanted to share my new knowledge with the world. At least with the very small world composed of people who read my blog.

My encounter with culantro happened at Pho Dang, a new Vietnamese cafe in Winooski. My bowl of beefy pho arrived accompanied by a selection of herbs meant to be torn up and stirred into the broth. Mint, cilantro and Thai basil were recognizable, but there was one herb, with long serrated leaves, that I'd never, ever seen before. I can't remember the last time that happened!

So I did a little research. Culantro (or ngo gai, in Vietnamese), as is evident by the pungent aroma, is closely related to cilantro.  It is native to the Caribbean and tropical regions of the Americas, and is a popular kitchen herb in the aforementioned regions, as well as in Southeast Asia.

Despite that, I was unable to find a single recipe calling for it in any of my regional cookbooks. To make matters worse, a book on Mayan cooking and another on the cuisines of the Caribbean said that cilantro and culantro are the same thing. The only tome that differentiates is The Essential Cuisines of Mexico by Diana Kennedy. But even then, it doesn't actually call for the stuff.

Since my old-fashioned, paper books weren't helping, I turned to the web. If you're able to find culantro at an Asian or other ethnic market, here are a few uses...

1) Black beans and rice with culantro chimichurri, from the Cooking Diva Blog.
2) Pho Bo, from About.com. It's a Vietnamese recipe, even though it's on a Chinese cooking page.
3) Linguine and lobster caribe, on the Food Network's Site.

The picture, by the way, is from a very informative, yet rather dry horticulture website at Perdue.

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Comments

Molly

That's so interesting. Where are the folks at Pho Dang getting such an obscure item? Do they grow their own?

melissa

Hola from Panama! Thank you for the link...Culantro is really a very unique and intense herb. Here it grows like weed! Have a tasty week...

Peter

I live in Miami and get it at the local supermarket. The first time I had it was in Trinidad where they call it shadow bennie, (chadon bene, shadom bennie, Latin - Eryngium foetidum). I like it a lot better than cilantro.

Suzanne

Melissa -- Thanks! Do you work for the Gilded Fork? I was pretty sure I recognized you from their site. I used to write for them, too.

Peter -- Nice to meet you! Culantro isn't easy to find up here, but we do have a few ethnic stores in my neighborhood, so I'm going to see if I can locate any. Thanks for providing some of the other nicknames as well as the Latin name! Linnaeus, the famous botanist who named it, may not have thought much of the herb, since he referred to it as "fetid!"

If you have any recipes to share, feel free to post them!

James Inkyo

If you're still looking for recipes for culantro try Puerto Rican recipes as I have found quite a few. From what I can tell one of the most popular uses for culantro is in Puerto Rican "Sofrito". Also, if you're looking for seeds to try and grow some yourself try Caribbeanseeds.com I bought 2 packets of seeds from them and am currently growing several plants in my balcony (I live in an apartment) "garden".

Mike

I grew up with Puerto Rican cooking.
There a difference between culantro and cilantro.
Yes, they sound similar, but don't be fooled ... they should not be substituted.
Culantro has a unique flavor/aroma that cilantro will not deliver.

suzanne

Thanks Mike! I still haven't been able to find fresh culantro around here. The times I tried it at Pho Dang, I did find the aroma and flavor to be quite unique. We now have a new Vietnamese restaurant in the area...I wonder if they'll be using it, too.

A Brit

You know you really should be calling it Coriander ;-)

Deidre

Hello, I'm from Trinidad in the Caribbean (West Indies) and I have both herbs in question growing in my yard.

It is not a mispronounciation. Cilantro and Culantro are of the same family but are different herbs. A previous poster Peter, mentioned that Trinidadians call it 'Shadow Bennie' (Shadon Beni) and he is right. I am aware that throughout the Caribbean, the name used varies enormously. Americans call it Long or Mexican Coriander as well as Culantro.

I much prefer the taste of CUlantro to CIlantro though. It is used to season dishes and meat much like basil and oregano, and is a very important ingredient for 'chows' using various kinds of tropical fruits. The Caribbean use spices a lot in cooking.

http://www.uni-graz.at/~katzer/engl/Eryn_foe.html

Alanna

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

Alanna

http://www.craigslisthelper.info

sacundim
"To make matters worse, a book on Mayan cooking and another on the cuisines of the Caribbean said that cilantro and culantro are the same thing. The only tome that differentiates is The Essential Cuisines of Mexico by Diana Kennedy. But even then, it doesn't actually call for the stuff."

The problem here is that the terms for these plants is not at all uniform in Spanish. There are regions where the word "culantro" is used to refer to what Americans call "cilantro" (scientific name: Coriandrum sativum); there are regions where the word "cilantro" is used to refer to the plant you're calling "culantro" in this entry (Eryngium foetidum). Then there's the regions where the name for culantro is along the lines of "long cilantro." And then there are places where the names are idiosyncratic, like Puerto Rico, where culantro is "recao" and cilantro is, for some unfathomable reason, "cilantrillo" (little cilantro).

So in the end, when you find a Latin American recipe that calls for "cilantro" or "culantro," it is sometimes hard to know which plant is meant. This is particularly the case when the recipe is from a cuisine you're not familiar with, when the the author of the recipe is writing for a local audience, or when they're trying to explain their cuisine to you but they're not aware that what they call "cilantro" or "culantro" isn't called like that everywhere else.

Anne

I am in the Midwest and our local Global Food Market carries Culantro. But its labeled Cilantro. I clearly know what Cilantro (as used in Mexican cooking) is. I questioned it and the produce kid was clueless. Said its labeled correctly. Muttered something about thats what the vendor calls it. Sigh....

But I have been trying to find out does it taste different and are they interchangeable.

Rene Of T&T

Hi all,

In our country Culantro is also called
1) Fit weed
2) Bhandania
3) Chadon Beni

For more info, see http://www.caribbeanseeds.com/cilantro-culantro.htm

Sarah

Adding my two cents to clear up some of the confusion.

Cilantro and Culantro are two different herbs. Cilantro looks like a flat leaf parsley and Culantro is a long leaf with spiny edges (this is why some refer to it as spiny cilantro).

As for flavor Culantro is Cilantro times 10. The flavor is stonger and a little different than Cilantro.

Do not confuse either herb with Coriander which is actually the dried seed of the Cilantro. People sometimes call Cilantro, Coriander or Chinese Parsley. Coriander is the seed only and used in a lot in Indian cooking. Coriander also has as spicy lemony aroma. Technically speaking Cilantro is just fresh Coriander.

Culantro is much harder to find; but I have seen it in Vietnamese markets called Ngo Gai. It is also called Recao in Puerto Rico.

People disagree about them being interchangeable in recipes. I think it depends on the recipe. Also, Culantro has a stonger flavor so the sensitive palate can taste the difference. Others have no problem with it. I have seen Puerto Rican sofrito made with either or both so I think it is a personal preference. I use both in my sofrito when I can get them.

You can see pics of the two plants at: www.caribbeanseeds.com/cilantro-culantro.htm

Hope this helped someone. :)

Derica Spieker

Hey, I saw that photo in my research, too! Lol. I thought there was just a mix-up between cilantro, culantro, and coriander, but it turned out that those are three different herbs (thanks to Sarah's comment). So, is the flavor of culantro similar to the others? Their medicinal uses are kinda different, though.

Mari Richardson

I have a beautiful culantro plant growing on my patio. My only concern is that it seems so spiny. When recipes call for chopped fresh culantro, do I need to cut off the spines?

Dr Joseph D. Wallach

Hi,
Peruvians use CULANTRO in recipes for SECO de POLLO, SECO de PATO y
SECO de RES. The seco is just a green souce made of liquified Culantro.
Yes, they, the Peruvians, know de difference between cilantro and culantro, as they call for one or the other in their various recipes and even caution not to use the other when recommending one or the other.

Black Vodka

Thanks Joseph, I had no idea the Peruvians use Culantro. I'm just starting to read up about it now and I'm learning a ton.

Joni

I cannot figure out whether my husband's family in Perú cooks with cilantro or culantro. I am going to try growing it in Indiana USA. By the way, your link at the very end of your article should say your picture comes from "Purdue" (University). Thanks for the info!

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