How to Keep Cilantro Fresh

comments (16) May 4th, 2012

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WesternGardener Jodi Torpey, contributor
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Experiment 1 tested how long cilantro would stay fresh when placed in water and left on the counter.
Experiment 2 tested how long cilantro would stay fresh when placed in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Experiment 3 tested how long cilantro would stay fresh when placed in water, covered, and refrigerated.
Experiment 1 tested how long cilantro would stay fresh when placed in water and left on the counter.Click To Enlarge

Experiment 1 tested how long cilantro would stay fresh when placed in water and left on the counter.

Photo: Jodi Torpey

I have a love-hate relationship with cilantro.

I love to use it in my cooking, but I hate for it to go to waste. That’s what spurred me to find the best way to keep cilantro garden fresh for several weeks.

The broad lower leaves of the coriander plant are known as "cilantro." Cilantro is typically sold in bundles of fresh leaves and stems or grown in the garden. I use cilantro in all kinds of recipes from Mexican cuisine to Southwestern recipes. It’s also a main ingredient in Middle Eastern and Asian cooking, too.

The problem I’ve always had with this slightly pungent herb is the fresh leaves don't stay fresh for long and can turn mushy when stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.

Even though cilantro is inexpensive to buy at the grocery store and easy to grow in the garden, I was tired of having to toss it on the compost pile instead of on top of a salad.

I decided to conduct a simple experiment to see if I could find the best way to keep cilantro fresh for more than a week or two. I bought one bunch of cilantro and divided it into three smaller bundles.

Experiment 1: The first bundle of cilantro was placed in a small jar of water and left on the counter, similar to the way I keep sprigs of basil fresh.

Experiment 2: The second bundle was placed in a small jar of water, covered with a plastic sandwich bag and placed in the refrigerator.

Experiment 3: The third bundle was trimmed and placed in a plastic container with an airtight lid.

Then I waited to see which bunch of cilantro would stay the freshest for the longest amount of time. I checked on each of the containers every few days and made sure there was plenty of water in the two jars.

Here’s what I discovered:

The cilantro in the jar of water on the counter (Experiment 1) was the first to go. It lasted just over 7 days. This is a fewer number of days than when stored in a plastic bag in the fridge.

The cilantro in the plastic container (Experiment 3) lasted about 10 days longer than Experiment 1. The leaves didn’t get mushy, but they did start to turn an unappetizing color.

Experiment 2 was the clear winner. The cilantro stems placed in water, covered and refrigerated remained fresh for just over four weeks.

Do you have a special method for keeping cilantro or other herbs fresh in your kitchen? Please share your tips here.


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Comments (16)

eww92670 writes: The recommended storage for basil, from the farmer at the farmers' market,is to put it in a plastic bag, full of air, twirl and twist the top to close it, and leave it on the counter, not the fridge. lasts for a couple of weeks.
Posted: 11:05 am on August 8th
Ilovegardening writes: I wanted to add that I treat other leafy veggies, like chard and kale, the same way as lettuce, and I use gallon-size jars rather than half-gallon as I originally stated.
Posted: 11:34 am on July 26th
Ilovegardening writes: I've found a great way to keep all my vegetables (with the exception of lettuce which I'll explain later), including cilantro, crisp fresh forever--without having to use paper towels. I soak a kitchen towel (a regular, large hand towel; doesn't really matter what material) in cold water, then wring it out so it doesn't drip but is still quite damp-wet, and lay it flat and smooth on the bottom of my vegetable drawer in the fridge (pretty important to use a drawer; not just flat on a shelf).

On top of the damp towel , I place my washed and loose vegetables, slightly dried with another hand towel used for that purpose. They can be placed on top of each other, too. For instance, I lay the celery stalks on the right side of the bin. On top of these, I place whole carrots. On top of the carrots, I place stalks of green onions. On the other side of the bin, I might place washed whole beets, and cabbage. I just keep topping everything with veggies until I have filled up the bin, keeping in mind to place the lighter veggies, like cilantro and parsley, on the very top so they don't get crushed.

I then place another soaked and wrung kitchen towel over all the veggies to cover them. I then shut the drawer, and voila. When I need a veggie, I just pull it out, already cleaned and ready to prepare and fresh as the day I stored it. When a veggie runs low, I buy another, wash it, and return to fridge. Periodically, I remove the veggies from the bin (good time is when everything is running low)and wash my towels in the washing machine to freshen, then start over; i.e., soaking them in cold water and wringing well, laying flat in drawer, and relaying the veggies, etc.

Lettuce is a little different. I still don't have to use paper towels, and it, too, keeps fresh forever. I wash a head by separating the leaves and swishing them in a few changes of water in a large bowl. Then I give each lettuce leaf a good shake (I don't use a salad spinner because I want a little moisture left on each leaf). Then I arrange the leaves individually in a very large glass jar (half-gallon size is good), so they're closely placed together (can be a little snug, but try not to crush). Then I screw on the jar lid and place in the fridge. When I need some for a salad or sandwich, I simply pull out some washed leaves already prepared and crisp fresh.

Thanks for letting me share, and hope these ideas might work for you, too. I feel good if I can save some trees, and my work seems to go faster, too.






Posted: 3:26 pm on July 25th
Trader106 writes: can you take a look at the photos of the experiments? it looks like it is mislabeled when compared to what is written...thx.
Posted: 10:14 pm on May 20th
Trader106 writes: can you take a look at the photos of the experiments? it looks like it is mislabeled when compared to what is written...thx.
Posted: 4:08 pm on May 2nd
madenson writes: I have tried all of the above in the article. My newest method, which works for over 2 weeks, is to place a piece of paper towel on the bottom of a plastic container saved from a purchase, say baby spinach in a plastic box, lay the cilantro in it, a paper towel across the top, a light spray of water, and into the refrigerator. This method works for nearly all my refrigerated vegetables.

Posted: 3:02 pm on December 20th
Eurongilly writes: I freeze too, I chop and put into a clipseal bag and add water, same with parsley and other herbs, :)

Posted: 2:42 am on December 10th
accorn55 writes: I do exactly what you do (method 3) but I use plastic shower caps from hotels in place of the plastic bag. I think you can actually buy shower cap-like covers for food now.
Posted: 10:32 am on September 24th
cath65 writes: Jodi, thank you for that, I too use cilantro (or coriander as we call it here in Australia) in everything. But I could cry when I see how much of it you trim! Some of the best flavour comes from the root itself and it is what is used most in Asian dishes. Trim the stringy bits off the roots but the roots chopped up thinly add an amazing flavour to any dish!!
Posted: 4:44 pm on September 13th
JustPlayDolls writes: Clean the fresh herbs; chop them into single portions in an ice cube tray with olive oil; freeze; pop the herb cubes into a ziplock bag. :)

Works with all fresh herbs.
Posted: 1:16 pm on March 21st
SirGawain99 writes: I've stored fresh coriander in the freezer for many months at a time. Once thawed, it is still attractive and tasty, but the nose is less pungent, and it deteriorates quite fast. It needs to be thawed at the last minute before serving.

My method involves rinsing the cut stems, then removing as much water as possible in a salad spinner. I place them in a plastic bag and remove all of the air. I have a small vacuum pump, but this can be accomplished quite well with your mouth via a drinking straw. Once the bag has collapsed as far as possible, I twist the end and knot it tightly. One of those commercial vacuum sealers would probably work best.

It's important to plunge the package into the coldest part of your freezer, and leave it closed for a few hours to freeze the coriander as fast as possible. Slow freezing allows large water crystals to form, which split the food fibres and cause it to go limp when thawed.
Posted: 5:16 am on March 15th
Sandy1976 writes: I also tried many was keeping this delicate herb fresh for longer time. Finally I too found a way to stay them fresh for about three weeks. The moment I come back from the vegetable market I pick any dried or mushy cilantro. Place them on the kitchen towel under and above the cilantro inin such a way that all the moisture get dried up and then put it in the plastic wrap or container with breathing valve or holes in the box I never put them in air tight box it stays fresh for 3-4 weeks
Posted: 11:40 pm on November 1st
jdanko writes: I found that if I put the entire bundle in a ziploc bag and placed it in the freezer, it keeps it fresh. It thaws in your hand when you want to use it.
Posted: 2:42 pm on August 14th
mlgrant writes: Hi Jodi, I am in rural Victoria Australia we call it corriander here I am not too sure about freezing the leaves and stems as they tend to go soggy,I have frozen the roots though and they went well.I like to use them in curry paste and curries. The best and most successful way I have found to store this herb is by making sure it is fairly dry and then wrapping it in paper towel so it is enclosed completely using a few sheets and then placing in an airtight plastic bag or container .Then change the towel every few days or when using ,this keeps the corriander in great condition for about 2 weeks that is as long as ive kept it because I have usually used the entire bunch by then anyway. Cheers and happy gardening :)
Posted: 6:34 am on July 28th
WesternGardener writes: Thanks for the great suggestion! I hadn't thought about freezing cilantro, but will certainly try it with the next bunch I buy.

--Jodi
Posted: 5:31 pm on May 11th
sunnywonder writes: Hello Jodi,

I'm from Berlin Germany, where you can buy all this asian herbs everywhere. But I hate waste too and I love to have cilantro on the hand for "Guacamole" at any time. Sometimes I make it late at night. So in my opinion the best thing to store it long times is, to deep freeze it. You can easy pick some frozen leaves that you need and give it still frozen to your meals.
I think the taste is fine and not really different in quality from fresh herbs.

Posted: 3:30 am on May 11th
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