Native to the Mediterranean and the Orient, coriander is related to the parsley family. It's known for both its seeds (actually the dried, ripe fruit of the plant) and for its dark green, lacy leaves (cilantro). The flavors of the seeds and leaves bear absolutely no resemblance to each other. Mention of coriander seeds was found in early Sanskrit writings, and the seeds themselves have been discovered in Egyptian tombs dating to 960 B.C. The tiny (1⁄8-inch) yellow-tan seeds are lightly ridged. They are mildly fragrant and have an aromatic flavor akin to a combination of lemon, sage and caraway. Whole coriander seeds are used in pickling and for special drinks, such as mulled wine. Ground seed is used in many baked goods (particularly Scandinavian), curry blends, soups, etc. Both forms are commonly available in supermarkets. Coriander leaves are commonly known as cilantro and Chinese parsley. They have an extremely pungent (some say fetid) odor and flavor that lends itself well to highly seasoned food. Though it's purported to be the world's most widely used herb, many Americans and Europeans find that fresh coriander is definitely an acquired taste. Choose leaves with an even green color and no sign of wilting. Store a bunch of coriander, stems down, in a glass of water with a plastic bag over the leaves. Refrigerate in this manner for up to a week, changing the water every two days. Coriander leaves are used widely in the cuisines of India, Mexico, the Orient and the Caribbean.
From The Food Lover's Companion, Fourth edition by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst. Copyright © 2007, 2001, 1995, 1990 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.