Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Brown Marmorated Cilantro

My bedtime reading for the last few nights, Helen Morgenthau Fox’s Gardening With Herbs from 1938, was prompted by a sudden recurrence in my interest in culinary herbs. Certain herbs I grow yearly, and they are so much a part of the gardening experience that I’ve long ceased to think of them as “herbs” in a specifically culinary sense. Although I do use them in food preparation, more than that I simply like to have them around to enjoy their scents. Typically, they never even get planted into the garden but instead spend the summer in pots out on the deck. Various basils and thymes, lemon verbena, rose geranium, rosemary, chervil and chives are personal favorites. A gardening friend brought some fresh, locally grown bay cuttings to a recent meeting of our rock gardening group, and the several which came home with me give hope that one day there might be a bay tree established in the ground here.
It makes better sense to buy some herbs than give them space in the garden. Chervil and cilantro are good examples, but try to find a grocer who sells fresh chervil. Cilantro on the other hand is now readily available throughout the year.
What does cilantro taste like? Wayne calls it soap plant, and indeed it is sometimes described as having a soapy taste. But this afternoon, another – and maybe more apt – comparison occurred to me. While preparing some cilantro for a sandwich today, I noticed that cilantro smells the way the brown marmorated stink bug smells! This is not so far-fetched as it seems. Cilantro, which in American usage refers almost exclusively to the leaf, is the plant from which coriander (again, in American usage this word almost exclusively refers to the seed) is obtained. I have a hunch that some translations from European languages into English fail to make this distinction. For instance, somewhere I read that Colette is said to have said that coriander smells like bed bugs. Most accounts say that coriander (the seeds) smell like burnt orange peel. Many people who eschew the fresh leaf of cilantro use and esteem the seeds, coriander, freely. Perhaps Colette was on a first name basis with bedbugs, but the word coriander itself is derived from the classical Greek word coris which means bedbug, and surely she knew that.
Now let’s switch briefly to zoology: bed bugs and marmorated stink bugs are related: both are true bugs. Evidently they share the family body odor problem.


Dave said...

I operate a company concerning entomophagy, and have eaten and served stinkbugs [Pentatomids, which are eaten in several parts of the world] several times. Some of them are delicious! I usually have the Southern Stink Bug [Nezara viridula] but would likely also try the Brown Marmorated Bug as well.

I have often described the Nezara as slightly bitter but also herby, and likened them to a mix of kale and cilantro. Sometimes they're considerably more peppery, which can be quite the surprise on the tongue.

There are other stories to share, including the Giant Water Bug [aka toe-biter], which is popular in Thailand and other parts of Southeast Asia. As you suspected, the different species in the family share body chemistry, and therefore flavors.

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McWort said...

Thanks, Dave, that’s intriguing. Did you see the bug eating scene in a program on PBS years ago which was filmed in the mountains of southern Mexico? There is a bug there which feeds on avocado leaves and takes on the flavor of the leaves (cinnamon-like I think). The film showed one of the locals who, when prompted, shyly picked one of the bugs from a tree and, with a barely suppressed grin, merrily chomped away.
Do you know which bug that one is?

Dave said...

No, unfortunately I missed that. Entomophagy is still somewhat popular in Mexico, though I doubt it's as prevalent as it used to be only a few generations ago. The Aztecs utilized insects thoroughly!

As for the particular ones you reference, I suspect they're in the same group: Hemiptera.

For some time now I've been working on getting a commercial supply of processed edible insects so as to open the market.