Culantro or Eryngium foetidum is part of the Apiaceae family which also includes carrot, coriander, parsley, celery, and parsnip. The herb is also known as sawtooth coriander, Mexican, or Thai coriander and is often compared to coriander. While the two have a similar aroma and flavour, culantro has a different leaf shape and appearance, withstands high-temperature cooking, and is more potent in taste and smell.
The herb is native to Mexico, the West Indies, Southeast Asia, and Central and South America. It is believed culantro was also used for medicinal purposes by native tribes across Mexico and the Caribbean. Culantro can be grown in Australia and should be sown from September to February in cold locations and from August to March in subtropical and tropical areas.
Growth and harvest
It is a biennial herb but can be perennial when planted in warmer tropical climates. Culnatro seeds are small and should first be planted indoors during winter or early spring before being transferred outside once any frosts have passed.
Seeds should be planted 30cm apart in all directions in well-draining soil. Culantro needs to be planted in areas that receive partial shade and can also be planted in pots, which enables growers to move the plant away from harsh weather conditions.
Culantro seeds sprout between 14-28 days and develop into a plant that’s comparable to a lettuce with a rosette of stiff, dark green leaves with sawtooth edging. The herb grows to around 40cm in size and has a pineapple-shaped flower in the centre which can be removed to help leaves develop. Leaves can be picked or cut off individually once they are 25-30cm in length from the base of the plant.
Flavour and culinary uses
The leaves can be eaten raw and cooked and last for about a week once they are harvested. The herb has citrus and earthy notes and is often described as a concentrated dose of coriander.
Flavour-wise, culantro has a bitter, earthy profile that some might describe as being soapy in character. It can be used in a similar way to coriander, but due to its more potent nature, should be added to dishes in smaller quantities. It can be integrated into food during and after cooking as it can withstand high temperatures.
Culantro is a versatile herb and can be used in everything from salads and marinades to salsas, tacos, soups, noodles, curries, and baked dishes. In the Caribbean, culantro is used in a sofrito which is a blend of herbs and spices used as a base for stews and rice dishes. Phở also uses culantro as a garnish to add a level of freshness and bitterness.