What’s Cinco de Mayo without Cilantro?

Add this distinct herb for extra flavor and health benefits

cinco de may blog

Pico de Gallo is a traditional Mexican dish featuring fresh cilantro.

We’re taking a look at herbs and their ability to add great flavor to your recipes, often eliminating the need for salt. We started with basil in March and this month we’re featuring cilantro.

Be sure to check back often to learn more about herbs and how to incorporate them into a delicious, healthy eating plan.

Celebrate with cilantro

With Cinco de Mayo just around the corner, it’s time to celebrate Mexican food and culture. Pico de Gallo, with its fresh tomato, onion, chile, lime juice and cilantro, is a classic component of Mexican festivities.  It’s also popular in Thai, Indian and Chinese cuisines.

Of cilantro’s two components used in cooking (seeds and leaves), our focus is on the leaves. The seeds are known as coriander and the leaves are known as cilantro (or coriander leaves). Look for bright green leaves without yellow spots if you purchase cut cilantro. If you’re harvesting from your own garden, cut up to 1/3 of the plant at a time, leaving enough leaves for continued growth. To clean cilantro leaves, move them gently around a bowl of cold water until all dirt/sand is removed. When chopping the cilantro, include some of the tender stems for additional flavor.

Enjoy health benefits

herbs blogCilantro is part of the family of plants known as Umbellifereae, which also includes celery, carrot, anise, cumin, dill, fennel and parsley. Several of the plants in this group are flavorful as a result of their essential oils. Quercetin, a flavonoid, is found in the leaves of cilantro. Along with other flavonoids, quercetin, may help reduce LDL cholesterol, plaque build-up in arteries and blood pressure. Cilantro also provides antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits while adding flavor and variety to meals.

If you’re wondering what to do with cilantro after Cinco de Mayo, consider exploring some new flavors such as those found in MHealthy: Portobello Mushrooms Stuffed with Savory Black Beans or Vietnamese Rice Paper Rolls with Sweet and Spicy Dipping Sauce.

Or, consider freezing leftover cilantro by placing it in ice cube trays and covering with a no-salt-added broth or water. The frozen cube of cilantro can be added to cooked dishes at a later time. For those who perceive cilantro to be “soapy” or otherwise unpleasant, crushing the cilantro will help release the offending aldehydes. A cilantro pesto with heart-healthy fats from olive oil and nuts can be an alternative way to enjoy this herb.

Take the next step:

  • Read tips for adding the fresh flavor of basil.
  • What are some other ways you enjoy cilantro? Share your tips with us here!

Allison Fay Brenda Small thumbnailBrenda Allison Fay, RDN, is a senior dietitian and cardiovascular nutritionist with the Cardiovascular Medicine Clinic at Domino’s Farms. With more than 15 years of experience as a dietitian, she provides nutritional counseling to help people reduce disease risk and improve health.



Frankel-informal-vertical-sigThe University of Michigan Samuel and Jean Frankel Cardiovascular Center is a top-ranked heart and heart surgery program among Michigan hospitals. To learn more, visit our website at umcvc.org.