Culantro is a tropical perennial herb that is native to Mexico, Central and South America and Puerto Rico. The leaf is green with long jagged edges (spiny). This herb has a strong aromatic scent. The Taíno Indians cultivated this aromatic herb in Puerto Rico. Therefore, it is an integral part of the Puerto Rican cookery especially when preparing our puréed condiment – Sofrito. The other Spanish term frequently used for culantro is “recao.”
I live in the Midwest and grow my own culantro in long planters every summer. I purchase the seeds online directly from Puerto Rico. In order for the seeds to successfully germinate in the Midwest, they need to be exposed to hot and humid temperatures. Therefore, I usually wait until the month of June to start spreading the seeds on top of organic soil. They are then placed on my back deck away from direct sunlight. Every day I use a spray water bottle and mist the top of soil just to keep the soil moist.
It takes at least 14 to 28 days for the seeds to start germinating. Once the seeds start to germinate, you will need to patiently wait another 3 months to be able to harvest the recao. Do not be discouraged if your first attempt in growing this herb is not successful. This is an herb that needs the right temperature, water and humidity.
Whenever a recipe calls for this herb as one of the ingredients, I retrieve several leaves of recao from my garden. You can instantly smell the pleasant aromatic scent released from the recao while cooking your dish. This herb will definitely give your dish a unique flavor and aroma.
You can purchase the culantro at the Latin Market or you can learn How to Grow Culantro.
Alternatives for Culantro – Special Ingredients:
Cilantro and culantro are cousins with similar flavors while shaped differently. However, the culantro has a stronger flavor and aromatic scent. There were no Latin markets when my parents came to the United States; therefore, they substituted with cilantro.
If a recipes calls for both the culantro and the cilantro and you are unable to purchase the culantro, then increase the amount of cilantro for said recipe.