Cilantro is one of those foods people love to hate. The fresh, citrusy herb, which is traditionally found in dishes like guacamole, salsa, and Chipotle's lime rice, appeals to some. But many others loathe it -- describing its flavor with such stomach-turning words as "soapy," "mildewy," and "buggy." Even Julia Child once said it has a "dead taste," and if she ever saw it in a dish she would, "pick it out ... and throw it on the floor." Clearly, cilantro is not without enemies.
Now, a new report from the USDA shows we may have even more reason than ever to hate cilantro: Routine federal testing turned up at least 34 unapproved pesticides on the green herb. Does this mean we should swear off cilantro forever?
Experts say no -- because many pesticides not approved for cilantro are OK for use on other plants at certain levels. Therefore, they believe that the unapproved pesticides on cilantro may not always represent a health threat. Moreover, it may be even less of a health risk particularly for Americans, who typically don't eat "piles" of cilantro in one sitting. Here's Ronald Roy, a food safety specialist at the Food and Drug Administration, explaining the situation further:
We would not pooh-pooh these violations ... They all constitute adulterated food. But we are also talking about a relatively minor food. … We have to be risk-based and apply our main resources to foods consumed most often by infants and children -- and those are your major fresh fruits and vegetables.
It's not exactly convincing, especially when you consider the fact that in March the FDA slapped cilantro growers and distributors a rare "guidance letter" (only the fourth such letter since 2005) citing 28 positive salmonella findings in cilantro since 2004 and warning the industry to "take action to enhance" cilantro safety.
I don't know about you, but cilantro has just been added to the list of foods I will only eat organic.
They say there's no exact substitute for cilantro as far as flavor is concerned, but if you're bound and determined not to eat it, I'd recommend either flat-leaf parsley or a combo of fresh mint and Thai Basil.
Or, you can just leave it out. My favorite guacamole recipe can be made without cilantro, and it's still incredible -- you won't even realize it's missing!
- 6 avocados
- 2-3 cloves garlic, mined
- 1 lime
- 1.5 cups onion, chopped
- 4 Roma tomatoes, chopped
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon cayenne
Halve and pit avocados, squeeze half of lime over top and mash. Stir in spices. Add tomatoes and onion. Squeeze remaining lime in and mix all together.
Image via Qfamily/Flickr