The Spice You Absolutely Can't Skip When Cooking Indian Cuisine

Cilantro, also known as coriander, may be a love-it-or-leave-it herb for many people, but the same cannot be said in Asia where the herb is frequently used as an ingredient, a garnish, or even a side dish.

And while cilantro is commonly found in Thai and Chinese cooking, the plant as a whole is especially prized in India where its leaves and its seeds are used across the country in different applications. Of the herb, MasterChef India judge Ranveer Brar says: "Whether it's as a raw paste or chutney, used with coconut, or the longer fern-like variant in Northeast India that is juicier and deeper, coriander is firmly a part of the cooking repertoire," per BBC.

No part of the cilantro plant goes to waste in South Asian cooking, be it Indian or Pakistani. Its roots are used to make a slow-cooked meat stew; its seeds can be simmered along with other spices to make a broth; its powder is ground and used with turmeric and cumin in many Indian sauces. Cilantro is so important that Brar sought to elevate the herb, which is also known as "dhania," so that it might be named "the national herb of India."

Cilantro has many uses in the Indian home

MasterClass says cilantro is one of the oldest herbs recorded in history — it was name-dropped in the bible, and seeds have been found at sites that date back to the Bronze Age. In India, the BBC says the use of cilantro can be traced to 6000 BCE and 1500 BCE, to the eras of Vedas and Sanskrit writing.

Cilantro leaves are prized by Indian cooks not just for their taste, but also for their brilliant green color. Aside from throwing fresh bunches of the plant on top of many Indian dishes before serving, Tardalal says chutneys and sauces are made with coriander leaves and stems, which are subsequently used as a dipping sauce for sandwiches and breads. The ingredient can also be mixed with garlic and turned into a sauce and served alongside any vegetable dish.

Coriander powder, which is ground from whole dried seeds, is usually used in conjunction with cumin as a flavor base for Indian dishes. And while it is used in gravies and dishes found in other parts of the country, Taradalal says this spice is especially associated with south Indian cooking, 

But cilantro doesn't just appear on the Indian table; it also holds a spot in the country's medicine cabinet where it is used not only to cure digestive conditions in Ayurvedic medicine, but is also meant to eliminate toxins and deal with physical problems including migraines, rheumatism, and arthritis, per Indian Mirror

The next time you're making a tasty Indian dish for your dinner, think to snag some cilantro at the store first.