Coriander’s got history
From medicine to cooking, coriander has been used for millennia.
Coriander seeds dating to 6000bc have been found in a Neolithic cave in Israel.
Tutankhamun was rather partial to coriander, as evidenced by the number of baskets of seeds found in his tomb.
The Greeks likened the smell of coriander leaves to bed bugs. Thankfully, I’ve never sniffed a bed bug, so I’ll take that on trust. Indeed, the name coriander is believed to stem from the Greek for bug: koris (cori).
Romans, those culinary wanderers, took coriander seed with them all over their empire, dropping it willy-nilly for archaeologists to discover hundreds of years later. Roman foodie Apicius used the leaves and seeds in many recipes.
So what exactly is coriander?
Let me explain in this, the second post in the series Botanicals Distilled. The plant is an annual with a long taproot. Easy to grow in warmer climes, such as the southern Mediterranean, North Africa and Asia. Coriander is difficult to grow in cooler climes. I know. I’ve tried (in the interest of science: ginology) and failed. The leaves called cilantro in Mexican cuisine, are also used.
But it is the seeds we are interested in. Different seeds from different regions vary in flavour and pungency. Quite obvious when you think about the varying levels of heat, sunshine and the different soil components in various parts of the world.
Coriander in Gin
In case you’re wondering why I am banging on about coriander so much, coriander seeds (not leaves) are the second most common botanical, after juniper used in the creation of gin.
If juniper is the Queen of botanicals then coriander has to be her Prince Regent.
Coriander can form up to a third of the botanicals in a batch of gin. Whole, crushed or roasted ginsmiths are bunging them wholesale into their pot stills.
Coriander and juniper share the volatile oil linalool, which goes some way to explaining why they make such good companions. Alpha-pinene (pine) and gamma-terpinene (lemon) are also present in coriander, giving the seeds a citrusy, spicy, woody twang.
Now, at this point I have a confession to make: I am not a big fan of coriander seeds in gin. I find it a bit musky and muddy at times, preferring gins that go easy on the coriander. Remember, distilling is essentially cooking. And cooked coriander seeds taste a whole lot different from the fresh/dried seed. Having said that, it does add a certain something to the overall flavour.
Try putting a whole coriander seed in your mouth, then bite down on it the next time you take a sip of your favourite London Dry. You get a real spicy lemony hit with your G&T. Now that’s the kind of coriander I like!
If you are a fan of coriander try Sacred Coriander Gin.
If you are a bit of a nerd (like me) and want to read more about the history of coriander go to Not Just For Dormice.