People use cilantro as a flavorsome addition to soups, salads, curries, and other dishes. In some parts of the world, people call it coriander. In the United States, cilantro refers to the leaves, and coriander refers to the seeds. Its nutritional content may provide a range of health benefits.

Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum L) is part of the Apiaceae family, which contains 3,700 species, including carrots, celery, and parsley. All parts of the plant are edible, but people most commonly use the fresh leaves and dried seeds in cooking. Cilantro has been a part of global cuisine for a long time.

It is a good source of antioxidants. Using cilantro to flavor food may encourage people to use less salt and reduce their sodium intake.

In this article, we describe the health benefits of cilantro and explain its nutritional content.

Aside from adding flavor to a wide variety of dishes, cilantro also boasts

Anticancer effects

Bunch of fresh coriander or cilantro on a wooden tableShare on Pinterest
Cilantro may reduce the need for salt in food.

Data on the effect of cilantro on cancer development is limited.

However, a 2019 test tube study examined the effects of an extract of C. sativum on individual prostate cancer cells. The researchers found that the herb reduced the expression of specific genes in cancer cells.

In doing so, the prostate cancer cells became less invasive, showed characteristics that meant they would not spread as quickly, and did not demonstrate as many signs of grouping together in colonies.

In another test tube study, extract of the stem, root, and leaves of C. sativum exhibited anticancer effects against human breast cancer cells and inhibited damage to cells due to oxidative stress.

Scientists are not clear whether the outcome would be the same in human studies. However, the results indicate the potential for further studies into C. sativum and its impact on harmful activity in cancer cells.

Pain and inflammation

A growing body of evidence suggests that C. sativum may be useful as a remedy for pain and inflammation.

Another study, published in 2015, investigated the pain relief potential of C. sativum in mice. The researchers found that extracts of C. sativum seeds produced a significant analgesic effect.

The study authors noted that naloxone blocked the pain relief effect of C. sativum. Naloxone is a drug that blocks the effects of opioid pain medications.

As a result, the researchers concluded that C. sativum supports pain relief through the opioid system.

Another study included 68 people that experienced frequent migraine headaches.

The authors asked participants in one group to take 15 milliliters (ml) of coriander fruit syrup in combination with a traditional migraine medication three times a day for 1 month. A control group took conventional migraine medication only.

The group taking the combination treatment experienced a reduced severity, duration, and frequency of migraines compared to the control group.

Skin health

A 2015 study in the Journal of Medicinal Food examined the ability of C. sativum extracts to protect the skin against ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation damage.

They tested an alcohol suspension of C. sativum on both human skin cells in a dish and skin cells in hairless laboratory mice.

The results supported the potential of C. sativum to prevent or reduce sun damage in the skin.

Antifungal properties

Although there are several treatments available for fungal infections, such as thrush, they often cause unpleasant side effects.

For this reason, researchers are developing natural compounds that people can use to manage fungal infections.

A 2014 study tested the effects of an essential oil derived from the leaves of C. sativum on Candida albicans, which is a yeast that is a common cause of infection in humans.

The authors conclude that the oil does indeed have antifungal properties and recommend further studies.

Natural preservative

A 2017 review highlights the preventive effects of C. sativum seed oil on bacterial and fungal activity.

The authors suggest that this oil may be highly effective as a natural food preservative.

One cup of raw cilantro weighing about 16 grams (g) provides:

  • 3.68 calories
  • 0.083 grams (g) of fat
  • 0.587 g of carbs
  • 0.341 g of protein

Cilantro also contains vitamins C, provitamin A, and K, as well as trace amounts of the following:

Including cilantro in a meal is a great way to add flavor to a dish or beverage without adding extra calories, fat, or sodium.

Cilantro is a tender herb that has gentle leaves. These are best to add either raw or near the end of the cooking process. This helps them maintain their flavor and texture.

Cilantro is relatively easy to grow and can thrive in small pots on a sunny windowsill, making it a sustainable, flavorsome herb.

When preparing cilantro, separate the leaves from the stems and only use the leaves. Use a sharp knife or herb shears and cut them gently.

Cutting with a dull knife or over chopping them will bruise the herb, and much of the flavor will end up on the cutting board surface.

Cilantro pairs well with many dishes, especially Mexican or Thai meals. It also works well with dishes that contain beans, cheese, eggs, and fish. The herb is also great with creamy vegetable dips and as a topping or garnish for soups and salads.

Take a look at these healthful recipes using cilantro:

People should experiment with cilantro in their own recipes, as it is a versatile herb that makes a delicious addition to many meals.

It is also fine to use dried herbs and spices, which some people may find easier.

Salmonella is a potential health risk when consuming imported spices. The United States imports more than 80% of its spices.

In a 2013 study of more than 20,000 food shipments, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found that 15% of coriander imports had Salmonella contamination.

However, ground or cracked coriander had a higher prevalence of Salmonella than the whole spice equivalent.

The FDA conducted this testing for Salmonella at the time of import. At the retail level, there is less risk, particularly with large, more reputable spice distributors. According to the guidelines from the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), heating food to 150–170ºF will kill bacteria, including Salmonella.

Sometimes, it is hard to detect cilantro in meals because they often contain a combination of other herbs and spices. So people with an allergy or sensitivity to cilantro must take extra care when choosing or eating meals or when using spice blends that may contain it.

A person's overall eating pattern is vital for disease prevention and healthful living. It is better to eat a varied diet than to concentrate on individual foods as the key to good health.

Q:

I don’t like the flavor of cilantro. Which other herbs boast similar health benefits but taste different?

A:

Although cilantro is nutritious, many people don’t like its pungent flavor, describing it as tasting “soapy.” If you think cilantro has a soapy taste, your genetics may be to blame. Research has shown that variations in specific genes may be responsible for your dislike of this herb.

For those who don’t like cilantro, there is a variety of other healthful herbs available that people can experiment with. For example, parsley, which belongs to the same plant family as cilantro, makes an excellent replacement. Not only does parsley add a kick of flavor to dishes, but it is highly nutritious and offers numerous health benefits.

When using parsley to replace cilantro in a recipe, try adding a bit of lemon juice or other citrus juice to enhance its flavor. Basil is another great choice when looking for a cilantro alternative that also offers impressive health benefits.

If you need a substitute for coriander seeds, caraway, cumin, and curry powder are good options.

Jillian Kubala, MS, RD Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.