Culantro is popularly known as chadon beni in the English-speaking Caribbean. It's used extensively in the cuisine of Trinidad and Tobago — in fact, it's one of the key herbs in cooking in that twin-island republic. It is also used to make recaito or sofrito in Puerto Rican cuisine, and it's sometimes used in Asian sushi. It's native to Mexico and South and Central America, but it's also cultivated in Hawaii, as well as in Cambodia, Vietnam, and Mexico.
It grows year-round in areas given to hot, humid climates.
Culantro Vs. Cilantro
Cilantro and coriander are similar in flavor to chadon beni, but the name "culantro" is not synonymous with cilantro — also known as Mexican coriander. The two plants look a great deal alike and they even smell a bit alike. They are, in fact, distant cousins, but culantro is a different plant. Chadon beni is much more intense and potent — about eight to 10 times more powerful in flavor. Be warned — you should use it judiciously.
In the same family as carrots, celery, and parsley, but culantro it may be harder to find in U.S. markets than these vegetables.
The plant has long, serrated leaves and will burst into a blue flower if allowed to bloom. It begins to lose flavor and texture after it blossoms.
Chadon Beni Uses
It's often added to beans and rice recipes. When it's chopped fresh, chadon beni or culantro can be used to flavor meats, seafood, vegetables and fresh fruit salsas.
But chadon beni also has many uses beyond cooking. When steeped into a tea, it can soothe symptoms of colds and flu, and despite its potency, it can ease an upset stomach.
There are those who swear that it lowers high blood pressure, and its anti-inflammatory properties can alleviate asthma symptoms. It can also help fight pain from bruises, earaches and toothaches because it's an anti-inflammatory. It was used to treat seizures in centuries past.
Culantro is rich in calcium and it's a good source of riboflavin, iron, carotene, and vitamins A, B-complex and C.
Buying and Storage Chadon Beni
Chadon beni is sold in mixed herb packages or in stacks of leaves both at the supermarket and at farmers' markets, but you're most likely to find it fresh in Puerto Rican and West Indian markets. Look for plants with whole, deep green leaves for optimal freshness. The roots should be intact. You can also purchase seeds online and grow your own.
Wrap chadon beni in paper towels and store in zip bags or airtight containers.
If you ever want to substitute chadon beni for cilantro, use less of the chadon beni to avoid overpowering the recipe. You should also add it to the recipe at the beginning of cooking so it has a chance to "cook off" and the flavor becomes more completely incorporated.