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Culantro is a pungent herb with long, glossy green, serrated leaves. The plant grows like lettuce, the thin leaves growing in a rosette pattern around a small central stem. The leaves grow up to almost one foot in height and up to two inches wide; the small, serrated teeth developing harmless yellow spines. The aroma of Culantro is said to have a bit of an odd smell that can be likened to that of a squashed stink bug. The smell aside, it has a flavor similar to that of cilantro, only more intense. When mature, the plant develops a thick flower stem that grows tall above the plant. The stems are multi-branched with spiky, green flowers and a white center. The flavor of Culantro is diminished after it flowers; so leaves are typically harvested before the plant develops its flower stems.
Culantro is available year-round.
Culantro is a leafy herb in the same family as parsley, celery and carrots. In the United States, it is often confused for the similarly spelled, cilantro, which also shares a similar aroma flavor profile, furthering the confusion. The two herbs are unrelated; botanically, Culantro is classified as Eryngium foetidum. In addition to being mislabeled as cilantro, the herb is sometimes called Saw-toothed mint and Long-leafed coriander or called “cilantro de hoja ancha,” meaning ‘wide-leaf cilantro’ in Spanish. Thanks to the increasing popularity of Puerto Rican, Caribbean and other Latin American cuisines Culantro is becoming more well-known outside of its native region.
Culantro is a vitamin and mineral rich herb that has been used for hundreds of years for both its nutritional value and medicinal qualities. Culantro contains vitamins A, B-complex and C, as well as calcium, carotene, iron and riboflavin.
Culantro is widely used in the cuisine of Puerto Rico and other Latin American countries. The intense flavor of Culantro stands up to the heat of cooking, whereas the more delicate cilantro will not. Though Culantro is used interchangeably with cilantro throughout its native area. Culantro is used fresh in salsas, chutneys and marinades, or added to soups, stews, and sauces. The South American herb is a main ingredient in ‘sofrito’ or ‘recaito,’ a blend of Culantro and cilantro, along with garlic, onion, green pepper, and small mild peppers. This blend is used in countless other recipes, and can vary depending on the cook, but Culantro is always a main ingredient. Preserve Culantro by blending the chopped herb with olive or grapeseed oil and freezing the mixture for future use. Keep unwashed Culantro, wrapped in plastic, in the refrigerator for up to a week.
In parts of South America, Culantro is known as “fit weed” because at one time, the herb was given to people to stop “fits” or seizures. Culantro is used in Jamaica to treat symptoms of cold and flu, as well as digestive troubles.
Culantro is native to Mexico, Central and South America. It thrives in sub-tropical and tropical climates, and can now be found growing throughout the Caribbean where the herb is called Shado Beni in Trinidad and Coulante in Haiti. Culantro is known as Ngo Gai in Vietnam, where it is just as popular as it is in Latin and South America. Outside of these communities, Culantro is relatively unknown. In the United States, the plant is available through seed companies and has started to find a place among Latin American and Caribbean chefs. It can also be found in South American specialty stores.
Recipes that include Culantro. One is easiest, three is harder.