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Spice up with coriander

Treat it as a spice or as a medicinal herb, the uses of coriander are aplenty

THE WORD "coriander" comes from the Greek "koros," which means bug — an allusion to the foetid smell of crushed coriander leaves. Famous Greeks such as Aristophanes, Theophrastus, Hippocrates and Dioscorides often mention cilantro in their works.

No wonder, because coriander, one of the oldest cultivated spices, is native to Greece.

The oldest coriander fruits, discovered in the Nahal Hemar cave in Israel, are over 8,000 years old. Some Sanskrit texts talk of coriander's cultivation in ancient India nearly 7,000 years ago, but few plant fossils exist to back up the literature.

The coriander was medicinally and mythologically important for the ancient Egyptians. A papyrus from 1550 B.C. lists it as a medicinal plant, and coriander seed were found in Tutankhamen's tomb. The Old Testament compares manna to coriander seed.

The Romans introduced northern Europe to the plant, and the Persians brought it to China.

The ancient Egyptians used coriander leaves in wine making, and the Germans once drank their beer with a dash of coriander powder. Coriander root is a popular vegetable in China and Thailand. Across the world, its leaves flavour salads, soups, sauces, curries, chutneys and dressings.

The seeds are a condiment in pickle spices, seasonings, curry powders, sausages, cakes, pastries, biscuits, buns, tobacco products, and alcoholic beverages like gin.

The Russians flavour their famous rye bread, Borodinskij chleb, with coriander seed.

Traditional English black puddings, Taklia, the Arab spice mixture, falafel, and dukka, the Egyptian appetiser,all use the seed for its mildly bitter, citrus taste.

Hundred gm of coriander seed contains nearly 11 gm of starch, 20 gm of fat, 11 gm of protein, and nearly 30 gm of crude fibre.

Petroselinic acid, the main component of coriander oil, has many industrial uses. The volatile oil is a popular flavour in pharmaceutical, cocoa, chocolate and liquor industries. The distinctive smell of fresh coriander leaves is due to the aldehyde in the volatile oil.

The leaves are rich in vitamin C, vitamin A, the B vitamin riboflavin and dietary fibre. Coriander's use as a medicine is as old as its use as a spice.

The ancient Egyptians were among the first to use it as such.

The Greeks and Romans used crushed coriander leaves to treat ulcers and rheumatism. Charlemagne's decree `Capitulare de villis', in 812 AD, ordered the population to grow coriander in view of its importance as a medicine.

In Ayurveda, coriander is an aphrodisiac, digestive, anti-flatulent, tonic, coolant, and diuretic. The pungent powder masks bad breath and the disagreeable odours of other medicinal herbs, and it blunts the spasmodic effects of rhubarb and senna.

The volatile oils of the seed have anti-bacterial properties, but research on this topic is still in its infancy.

RAJIV. M

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