I have recently been taking East Indian cooking lessons from my best friend’s mom. As we cook together, she often chats away regarding the multitude of health benefits the various spices we use possess. At first, I didn’t think much of her free commentary. But one evening, I decided to do some research of my own. I was amazed to discover that the colorful spices that I thought simply added to the taste, texture and aroma of Indian food,in fact provide quite a health punch.
What is Coriander?
One of my favorite Indian spices is coriander. I love coriander for its earthy aroma, which is a mixture of citrus and sage. Coriander can be found in seed or powder form, or as leaves, more commonly referred to as cilantro or Indian dhania. The fruit of the coriander plant contains two seeds which, when dried, are the used as the dried spice. The leaves of the plant are also used in cooking.
Coriander is one of the world’s oldest spices. Its use can be traced back to 5,000 BC. Although coriander originated in the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions its has been widely used in Asian countries for thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians cultivated coriander and it was even mentioned in the Old Testament. Hippocrates, along with many other early physicians, used coriander for its medicinal properties. Both the Greek and Romans used coriander to preserve meats and flavor breads. In fact, the name coriander comes from the Greek word koris, which means bug. Perhaps this name has to do with the way the seeds look, or maybe because of the “buggy” offensive smell it emits when unripe.
What are the benefits of Coriander?
Coriander is slowly developing quite a reputation for its healing properties. In certain parts of Europe, coriander is known as an “anti-diabetic” plant. Studies show that when this spice was added to the diet of diabetic mice, it helped stimulate their secretion of insulin and lowered their blood sugar. Coriander has a stimulating effect on the endocrine glands, which results in an increase in secretion of insulin from the pancreas, which in turn increases the insulin level in the blood. This helps with proper assimilation and absorption of sugar. And the end result is a fall in the sugar level in the blood, thus proving beneficial in the fight against diabetes.
In India, coriander’s anti-inflammatory properties are touted. Coriander contains, cineole, one of the 11 components of the essential oils, and linoleic acid, which both possess anti rheumatic and anti-arthritic properties. Thus, coriander is beneficial for reducing arthritic swelling. Coriander also helps excretion of extra water from the body, this helping reduce swelling due to malfunctioning of kidney or anemia.
In the United States, recent studies show that coriander has cholesterol-lowering effects. In a study involving rats fed a high-fat, high-cholesterol diet, coriander lowered total cholesterol levels. It also lowered LDL (the “bad” cholesterol), while increasing levels of HDL (the “good” cholesterol). It is believed that the acids present in coriander, which include linoleic acid, oleic acid, palmitic acid, stearic acid and ascorbic acid (vitamin-C), are what help reduce the cholesterol level in the blood. Coriander is also believed to help reduce the cholesterol deposition along the inner walls of the arteries and veins. As an added benefit, coriander provides a good source of dietary fiber, iron and magnesium.
Whether you choose to use coriander in its powdered or seeded form to enhance the flavors in your food, or in its leafy form as an edible garnishment, its health benefits make it a spice worth including in your spice rack. And if you are not much of a cook, go out for Indian food, most dishes in restaurants are at least garnished with coriander leaves.
Photo by alex_lee2001