Culantro is a small herb with long and serrated, lanceolate-shaped leaves, averaging 25 to 30 centimeters in length and 4 to 5 centimeters in diameter, arranged in a rosette pattern around a central stem. The leaves are glossy, dark green, broad, and flat with small, toothed edges, and each tooth may contain a tiny yellow spine. The spines are generally harmless, but older leaves may irritate the skin when harvested with bare hands. Seasonally, a flower stem extends above the leaves and is covered in spikes and flowers. Culantro has a strong, musky aroma reminiscent of the citrus, earthy, and herbal notes of cilantro. The scent is also sometimes likened to the smell of stinkbugs, a skunk-like, sweet, and grassy aroma. Culantro has a robust, vegetal, and herbaceous flavor with bitter, citrusy, tangy, and peppery nuances.
Culantro is a good source of vitamin A to maintain healthy organ functioning and vitamin C to strengthen the immune system while reducing inflammation. The leaves also provide calcium and phosphorus to protect bones and teeth, fiber to regulate the digestive tract, and other amounts of iron, riboflavin, and thiamin. In natural medicine, culantro leaves are steeped in hot water and drunk as a soothing tea to reduce symptoms associated with colds, flu, and fevers. The leaves are also used to stimulate the digestive tract and increase bowel movements.
Culantro has an intensely herbal, citrusy, and grassy flavor well suited for lightly cooked preparations. The elongated leaves are added towards the end of cooking to help lessen their pungent taste and are thinly sliced to create a more tender consistency. In recipes, culantro can be used interchangeably with cilantro, but the leaves should be incorporated in smaller quantities as the flavor is more intense. The leaves are commonly tossed into salads, salsas, chutneys, and marinades or topped over main dishes such as tacos. The herb is also added to soups, stews, and curries; infused into sauces; cooked into rice, bean, or noodle dishes; baked into casseroles; stirred into grain bowls; or finely chopped and mixed into roasted meat entrees. Culantro has a versatile flavor that complements many different ingredients and is used throughout the Caribbean, South America, Central American, and Asian cuisine, specifically Vietnamese, Thai, Singaporean, and Malaysian. Culantro complements other aromatics such as garlic, ginger, chile peppers, shallots, and citrus; meats such as poultry, beef, pork, and turkey; seafood such as fish, shrimp, and scallops; and vegetables such as bell peppers, tomatoes, celery, and zucchini. Whole, unwashed culantro leaves can be wrapped in damp paper towels and stored in the refrigerator for up to one week. The leaves can also be chopped, mixed with oil, and frozen for extended use.
Culantro is available year-round.