Coriander (Coriandrum sativum), a member of the carrot family (Umbelliferae), is an annual, heat-loving spice crop native to Southern Europe and the Mediterranean. The name coriander comes from the Greek word koris meaning bug, as the unripe fruits of the coriander plants have a scent similar to bedbugs. The ripe seeds, however, have a distinctive, sweet aroma that carries over a great distance and has been valued for many centuries. There are two types of coriander produced in Canada: large-seeded coriander and small-seeded coriander. The large-seeded coriander is grown in northern temperate climates and requires a shorter time to maturity, while the small-seeded coriander is grown in moderately temperate regions and has higher essential oil content. When coriander is harvested for the seed, it is known as coriander, however, when it is harvested as a fresh herb or for the leaves, it is called cilantro.
Coriander can be grown successfully on a wide range of soil types; however, it performs best on well-drained loam and sandy loam soils. In recent years coriander, along with caraway, another member of the carrot family, has been affected by flower blight with the most severe infections occurring in cool, wet conditions. There are numerous other pests and diseases that affect coriander such as grasshoppers, aphids, sclerotinia, aster yellows, and puccinia rust. As a result of the numerous diseases, a four-year crop rotation with other members of the carrot family as well as other crops vulnerable to the same diseases such as canola should be followed. Coriander should also not be planted near fennel as they do not grow well together.
Nutritional analysis indicates that coriander seed is a very good source of dietary fibre, iron, magnesium and manganese.
Products and Uses
The coriander plant yields both the fresh herb and spice seed, which are used primarily for culinary purposes. Coriander also has medicinal and cosmetic functions in the extracted essential oil form. Coriander seeds are used as a spice to flavour such foods as liqueurs, candies, sausages, and pickles. The demand for coriander has been increasing with the growth in consumption of ethnic foods. The essential oil that is extracted from the spice seed is used to mask the taste of unpleasant medicine as well as to calm the irritating effects of other medicines on the stomach. The oil is also used to scent soaps, perfumes, and other cosmetics.
Grading standards for coriander seed are not set by the Canadian Grain Commission; rather it is the buyer that grades the coriander seeds on the basis of aroma and appearance. The seed colour should be as light as possible as darker seed will be discounted; also, a mildly sweet and spicy flavour and aroma is optimal. Although there are no official grading standards, all coriander seed must be cleaned in accordance with the standards set by the American Spice Trade Association.