Culantro: The Intensely Flavored Mexican Coriander

Culantro may sound and taste similar to cilantro, and while the two share the same botanical family, they are poles apart in their appearance and culinary applications. Let’s discover more about culantro!

What is Culantro?

Culantro (Eryngium foetidum) is a tropical herb belonging to the family Apiaceae to which celery, carrots, parsnips, and parsley belong. It looks like a sleek elongated lettuce leaf with spikes around the borders. Culantro is an intense version of cilantro that grows in warm tropical conditions.

Culantro is native to Mexico and is widely used in the Caribbean, South and Central American, and Southeast Asian cuisine. On top of that, it has been traditionally used as a medicinal herb in tropical regions for a long time. Some common names for culantro are recao, Mexican coriander, sawtooth coriander, ngò gai, and bhandhania.

Image Credit: Flickr user The Rican Chef ( CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 )

What Does Culantro Taste Like?

Raw culantro is strongly flavored, citrusy, bitter, and soapy with undesirable skunky or stale undertones. However, the pungent flavor gets milder and balanced once it’s cooked. Many define its taste as similar to cilantro or parsley, but only more intense in flavor and aroma.

How to Use Culantro in Cooking?

Culantro is traditionally used in many dishes around the Caribbean, South America, and Southeast Asia. Its most popular uses are in seasonings, garnishing, and sauces. Recaíto is a popular Puerto Rican puree that forms the base of many recipes and is prepared from blending recao (aka culantro in Puerto Rico) with onions, bell peppers, ajíes dulces (sweet peppers), and garlic. Recaíto is used in paella, stews, soups, casseroles, and as a stuffing in empanadas, or simply as a condiment or sauce.

Image Credit: Flickr user staring at maps ( CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 )

Culantro can be used in any recipe that calls for cilantro, however, the only difference would be in using culantro while cooking rather than garnishing. Similarly, culantro is always used in smaller proportions compared to cilantro owing to its intense flavor. It is especially used in dishes that require long cooking times like beef or chicken stews, soups, braised beans, and casseroles. The long-cooking ensures the pungency of culantro is tamed and replaced with a pleasantly herby, and refreshing citrusy flavor. You can try adding roughly chopped culantro into these recipes.

      Brazilian Pork and Beans

      Chorizo and Cheese Stuffed Peppers

      Halibut with Cilantro-Lime Butter

      Chicken and Tomato Stew with Farro

Looking out for some adventurous culinary applications for this herb? Try adding thinly sliced culantro leaves onto your salad bowls, soups, and casseroles, and enjoy the sharp-peppery raw culantro. Our recipes for Black Bean Salad, Lemongrass Chili Drumstick, Taquitos, and Beef Pho are ideal when topped with chiffonade-style culantro. To begin your raw culantro exploration, we recommend using no more than one leaf per serving to avoid an overpowering flavor. 

Culantro Substitute

Cilantro is an ideal substitute for culantro but make sure to double the amount of cilantro while substituting in recipes.

Feature Image: Flickr user luiscor ( CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 )

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