Whenever I hear people talk about roots, it’s usually to complain about them.
“Oh, my bald cypress sprouted new roots and tore up the lawn!” Or, “Those darn roots burst through my pipes again!”
So, imagine my surprise when I discovered that there are roots out there that are not only eaten, but coveted by entire countries.
That’s right! The beloved coriander root is a staple in Thai and Chinese cuisine, thanks to its potent flavor and high heat tolerance.
So, if you’re sick of complaining about roots and want to try something new, read on!
What is Coriander Root?
Coriander root is the main root of Coriandrum sativum, more commonly known as coriander, cilantro, or Chinese parsley.
The roots are a staple in Thai cuisine, usually as a base for soups, curries, and more. Grinding the roots with garlic and black peppercorn is the way to go!
It's also used in Chinese cuisine, especially when braising meats.
And that’s what I love best about cilantro. It doesn’t only produce one treat. No, you use the leaves to garnish carnitas, the stems chopped up in stews, and the roots ground down for flavor.
It’s basically the Giving Herb.
Coriander Root Taste & Uses
Coriander root is astonishingly aromatic and flavorful. Each bite brings earthy, citrusy, and peppery tones to any dish.
It does taste like cilantro (it is cilantro, after all), but many say that it’s much stronger, like cilantro turned up.
Unlike the leaves, coriander root does well under heat, which makes it great for longer cooking times. So, the roots provide the foundation, while the leaves act as decorations.
Has coriander root piqued your interest yet? If so, try one of the following popular recipes that showcase its fabulous flavor:
- Massaman Curry
- Tom Yum Goong (Hot and Sour Soup with Shrimp)
- Clear Mushroom Lemongrass Soup
- Sautéed Garlic Prawns
If you’re worried about an upset tummy, never fear. Coriander root can help with digestive issues and is a known anti-inflammatory!
Where Can I Find Coriander Root?
Depending on your location, finding coriander roots might feel next to impossible. All hope is not lost, though.
Your best bet is either a local Asian grocery store or a farmers market! Either place may have the whole plant, though the Asian market may also sell them separately.
Some stores sell basil and other herbs in their produce section, pot and all. If they happen to have cilantro on hand, buy the whole thing and harvest the roots yourself!
Check the spice aisle for ground coriander root too while you’re at it.
If your search is proving fruitless, you can buy them from online grocers, such as Thai Food Online.
Best of all, you could grow some yourself! Buy some seeds or a baby plant and tend them with care.
Can I Eat Raw Coriander Root?
Yes and no.
Although the roots are edible, they are less than palatable once fully matured. See, the roots become woody as they mature, which cannot be eaten cooked or raw.
However, so long as the roots are young, you can eat them raw.
In order to safely consume them, you have to do a bit of prep work, no worse than washing your blueberries ahead of time.
Coriander has a tap root system, meaning there’s one main root with a bunch of lateral roots that grow off of it. Most folks only eat the main root, not the smaller ones.
So, let’s say you’ve got a full coriander plant...
First things first, chop off the stems and leaves, leaving about ½” of the stem above the root to prevent damage.
Next, cut off the lateral roots before scraping off excess dirt with the edge of your knife. Then, wash it in cold water, immersion-style, to get it squeaky clean, especially the pesky top part. Once all the dirt is gone, you should be good to go.
Coriander Root Substitutes
The best substitute for coriander root is coriander stems!
Try using at least three times the amount of chopped coriander stems in place of the root. Others suggest using four stems for one main root.
The stems are more heat-tolerant than the leaves, but they could affect the texture or color of the dish. While it's not the perfect substitute, it works in a pinch!
If I Don’t Like Cilantro, Will I Like Coriander Root?
Well, that depends. Do you dislike cilantro because you’re just not a fan or because it tastes like soap?
If it’s the former, there’s a small chance you may like the root. Sadly, the same can’t be said for the latter.
Those for whom cilantro tastes like soap have a genetic variant in their olfactory-receptor genes. That variation makes the aldehydes in cilantro prominent, which taste like soap.
Since the roots are essentially stronger cilantro, I imagine that makes them all the soapier.
Can I Grow My Own Coriander Root?
Yes! Coriander is fairly easy to grow too, so know both brown and green thumbs are welcome.
There are a few ways to grow coriander roots. You can start with seeds, baby plants someone else started, or cuttings.
No matter which one you choose, you’ll need well-draining soil and lots of sunshine.
To start from seed, gather a container and well-draining soil. You could also sow the seeds directly into the earth if you have a bed out back.
If using a container, dampen the soil inside then press a few seeds into the earth before covering them gently. Try to space them about one or two inches apart.
The leaves should be ready to harvest in 30 days or so, though the roots may take longer. Once grown, carefully harvest the roots by moistening the soil and then lifting them out.
Let’s move on to cuttings. They speed up the process significantly, especially if you have root cuttings.
But, first, let’s learn how growing coriander cuttings without roots works.
When you gather stem cuttings, make sure to remember which end pointed to the earth and which to the sky. If you plant them upside down, they will never take root, so it’s worth paying attention to.
Now that you have your cuttings, you can either stick a few of those stems in vessels of water or well-draining soil.
Make sure to use several cuttings per container. Why? They provide shade for each other, thereby increasing their chances of survival.
If you decide to use water, change it regularly or else bacteria will grow and kill the plants.
While soil is better in the long term, water may be the best option for you if you live in an apartment or with dirt-hating roomies.
Planted them in soil? Make sure to water them regularly–you can stick your finger in the dirt to see how moist or dry it is–and place them in a well-lit area. Cilantro needs partial to full sun to thrive.
Now, onto coriander root cuttings. These will grow faster than the stem cuttings since they already have roots!
Luckily, the process is basically the same. You can either plant them in water or soil, with the lateral roots pointing down. Then, all you have to do is water and wait!
Last but not least, if you have a pre-sprouted plant from the store or farmers’ market, you can plant them in an outdoor bed or a pot indoors.
Either way, be sure to place them in an area with lots of sunlight and well-draining soil. And don’t forget to water!
What’s the Best Way to Store Coriander Root?
You have two options: the fridge or the freezer.
When stored properly, it can last up to two weeks in the fridge! After washing and prepping your coriander root, place it in a glass of water and then store it in the fridge.
You can also freeze the roots if you’re not planning on using them immediately. All you have to do is wrap them in foil and then stick them in the freezer.
Be sure to label them first! There’s no downside to freezing them either. The roots don’t need to thaw before use, so the freezer is often your best option.
The coriander plant is truly a bang for your buck.
Plant a few crops, and all of a sudden you have leaves for garnishing, roots for seasonings, and stems to bring it all together.
If you want to enhance your curries and step away from pre-bought pastes, try coriander root! You can find it online, at your local Asian market, or, best of all, you can grow your own.
So, from me to you, let’s complain about roots a little less and be grateful for the wonders they bring.