Health Benefits of Cilantro

The herb offers essential nutrients like vitamins A, K, and C and heart-healthy antioxidants.

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Cilantro—also known as the leaves of the coriander plant—is a bright green herb commonly used in cuisines around the globe. It's a mainstay in many Mexican, Asian, and Middle Eastern dishes.  

Besides its somewhat citrusy, peppery flavor (to most people, anyway), cilantro is added to dishes for its potential health perks.

Here's the lowdown on cilantro's benefits, how to eat it, and why some people cannot bear its taste.

Cilantro Benefits

Although research on cilantro is limited, some evidence suggests a few potential health perks.

A Good Source of Nutrients

In addition to color and flavor, cilantro adds nutrition to your plate. A quarter cup of raw cilantro leaves (about the size of a golf ball) provides 16% of the daily recommended value of vitamin K. Vitamin K supports bone health, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements.

Cilantro also offers 5% and 2% of the daily recommended vitamin A and C values, respectively. Those vitamins are essential for immune function.

Contains Antioxidants

Beyond its vitamin value, cilantro also offers important compounds called antioxidants, according to a review published in 2022 in the journal Molecules. Antioxidants are substances that may prevent or delay certain types of cell damage.

While cilantro has many antioxidants, polyphenols are particularly significant. Why? Polyphenols are antioxidants that may reduce inflammation, according to a review published in 2019 in Food and Function. Polyphenols may prevent cell damage that would have otherwise contributed to premature aging and an increased risk of chronic diseases.

May Help Heart Health

Traditional medicine has long used parts of the coriander plant (like cilantro leaves) for pain, inflammation, gastrointestinal problems, and more.

While most of the plant's medicinal properties are unclear, the 2022 Molecules review stated that the herb might have heart health benefits. Coriander may regulate blood pressure and heart rhythm due to cilantro's high antioxidant content.

However, of the 18 studies the review assessed, only two were conducted in humans. Therefore, you shouldn't expect munching on cilantro to ease any heart issues. As of November 2022, much more research needs to be done.

Potential Drawbacks of Cilantro

In general, cilantro has very few downsides, especially regarding nutrition content. However, some people may want to avoid cilantro. For example, a study published in 2012 in Flavour found that 2% to 21% of individuals dislike cilantro, depending on the population.

A genetic variant—a permanent change to your DNA—may make you highly sensitive to the smell of a compound in cilantro called aldehydes, according to a review published in 2019 in the journal Nutrients.

Since smell and taste are closely linked, that genetic variant can make the fresh, citrusy herb taste like soap or dirt.

Additionally, because cilantro is often consumed raw, it poses the risk of bacterial contamination you would otherwise have killed through cooking.

If you're at a higher risk of developing a more severe illness due to foodborne bacteria, you should talk to your healthcare provider about whether you should cook cilantro. People with a higher risk include pregnant people, people over 65, or people with a medical condition that weakens their immune system, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

How To Eat Cilantro

If you're looking to bump your intake of antioxidants and vitamins, garnishing dishes with raw cilantro is for you. Sprinkle it atop guacamole, salads, beans, stir-fries, soups, fish, curries, and more.

Even if you're not a huge fan of plain, raw cilantro, go online and find recipes incorporating this herb, like pico de gallo, pesto, chutney, and drinks. Try pairing roasted corn with chopped cilantro and fresh lime. The key is to have fun experimenting with ways cilantro can freshen up a dish.

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