Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Coriander cure for foul food


You might not recognise these beautiful flowers as those of the coriander plant. And you might not know that coriander can neutralise some of the foulest odours on earth, those arising from a dish served up for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner. No, not the turkey but the insides of a pig.

I didn't know that boiled or fried (large) hog intestines were a popular festive food for folks in the southern States of the USA. Not that I'm surprised. All the bits and pieces of a dead animal seem to find favour somewhere.

The surprising bit - although not shockingly so having eaten Durian and blue-veined cheeses myself - is that chitlins, as they are called, have a 'notoriously foul odour...reminiscent of the waste material that once filled the intestine'. Fecal and sewage are words you find in descriptive passages (so to speak) about chitlins.

To get through the cooking, and eating, of this foul smelling food our American friends (and those in other countries such as Central America and Asia where it also makes its way to the dinner table) look for ways to mask the odour. I know, it's tempting to suggest that something else be eaten instead but us humans do the darndest things.

The herb of choice for many stinky foods is Coriander (Coriandrum sativum), in the carrot family. We think of Coriander as a kind of weird parsley (in fact it is sometimes called Chinese Parsley) that makes our dishes taste more Asian and less European, or in seed form as the bulky part of our curry mix. It's sometimes added to medicines to 'correct' their flavour. That said, some people find the odour and taste of Coriander itself, whether leaf or seed, a little off-putting.

The list of medicinal uses apart from flavour correction is long: dyspepsia, loss of appetite, convulsions, insomnia, anxiety, diabetes and more generally killing bacteria. We use the fresh leaves (sometimes called Cilantro) and dried fruits (which we call Coriander seed) quite differently, and the active chemicals, and flavours, vary in different parts of the plant and through the development of the fruits.


I was diverted by all this recently when our crop 'went to seed' and I had a chance to enjoy not only some attractive flowers but also some differently sculpted leaves. As you can see the leaflets (below) narrow up on the flowering stem and look quite different to the typical culinary ones above. Lots of plants do this kind of thing but it's cute to observe.


Unfortunately although it went to seed it didn't make it to fruiting stage (probably due to a few missed waterings and other abuse). I did get to enjoy the flowers, though, illustrated at the top of this post. They are grouped into clusters we call umbels and each one has fully furled petals pointing out from the centre and shrunken petals pointing inward. Again, cute.

So much for my petty pleasures. What about those stinky intestines in the USA? A research group in Japan lead by Yasuyoshi Hayata found that indeed Coriander worked with Chitlins. They then went further and isolated the odour-eating agent itself, a chemical with a 'flowery fragrance' called (E,E)-2,4-Undecadienal.

Less than a drop of this chemical in our Chitlin should do the trick. It works at a concentration of 10 parts per billion or, as the researchers helpfully convert it, 10 drops per Olympic-size swimming pool. Now that's a lot of intestine.


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