Culantro: Cilantro’s Pungent Cousin

Culantro is an herb related to cilantro and that has a similar flavor and aroma. Culantro bears a closer resemblance to some other types of leafy greens than it does to cilantro. It has long, saw-toothed leaves similar to those of young dandelion greens or arugula. Culantro belongs to the Apiaceae family just like cilantro and like a few other well-known herbs like parsley and dill.

Culantro’s botanical name is Eryngium foetidum. The Eryngium genus name tells you it is related to the sea holly, and the epithet suggests that it has a strong smell that some people consider unpleasant.

Culantro comes from the Americas. It is native to the West Indies, Central America and the tropical parts of South America. From those places, it has been introduced into Florida and then elsewhere in the world. Culantro has a long history of use as a medicinal herb among the native tribes in Mexico and the Caribbean.

These days, culantro is cultivated in Hawaii and parts of Asia like Vietnam and Cambodia having been brought to Asia by the Chinese as a cilantro alternative. Culantro goes by several names depending on the region in which you find it. Other names for culantro include recao, fitweed, long coriander, and chadon beni. Your best bet for finding culantro in the United States is to look in a grocery store that caters to a Latin American or West Indian clientele.

Culantro flavor profile

Because culantro has a stronger flavor than cilantro — about 10 times more potent — you can add it as a dish cooks. With cilantro, you would have to add it at the end of cooking to keep its flavor from being lost.

Some describe culantro’s flavor as soapy, which is also a term that gets used for cilantro’s flavor. Another descriptor is musty and some people also describe it as smelling like stink bugs. Culantro is one of those herbs with a flavor profile that many people find disagreeable on its own.

Health benefits of culantro

Culantro is full of nutrients, which means that it can provide various health benefits. The nutrients include:

  • Vitamins: You will get a significant amount of vitamin A from culantro in addition to riboflavin and thiamin. The herb is also a good source of vitamin C.
  • Minerals: Culantro contains iron, calcium, and phosphorus.
  • Fiber: Because the leaves are consumed whole, they provide a significant amount of fiber to the diet.

You can use culantro to treat or prevent the following health problems:

  • Colds: Practitioners of Jamaican folk medicine use culantro as a treatment for colds.
  • Seizures: One of culantro’s applications is as an anti-convulsive medication, which is also where it gets its fitweed nickname. Fits are an old-fashioned term for seizures

Common uses

Culantro shows up in many recipes from the Caribbean and Latin America. In the English-speaking Caribbean, it is most popular in Trinidad and Tobago. Cooks in this part of the world use it to make sofrito, a combination of aromatic seasonings that is the starting point of many Latin dishes. It also shows up as a cilantro alternative in some salsa recipes.

You will also find culantro in various Asian dishes including some pho recipes. Because it has much in common with cilantro, you will sometimes see it recommended as a substitute.