Beer Garden: Coriander

cilantro plant This series of articles discusses ingredients other than hops traditionally or contemporarily used in beer that can be grown and/or harvested in the Northern Hemisphere.

A well-known spice in so many cuisines of the world, coriander was and still is an important product of the world spice trade. It’s also an ingredient in certain beer styles and has a long history of use in brewing.

I’ve written more about the history and flavors of coriander here, but as a quick overview, coriander contributes a light lemony, floral flavor and aroma that works in conjunction with the flavors generated by certain yeasts and hops. Like hops, coriander also boasts some bacteria-inhibiting properties.

What Styles Work?

The original gose from Leipzig, Germany used salt and coriander, and many goses brewed today do the same (though some add additional fruits or spices as well). Belgian witbiers traditionally use coriander and orange peel, and a few other Belgian styles add coriander alone. American wheat beers or “golden” ales also sometimes include coriander. So this tells us that coriander and wheat are good friends, though that doesn’t have be a limitation. In general, keeping a light or grainy malt profile will allow the lemony and floral notes of the coriander to shine through. Belgian or wheat beer yeasts with a nice ability to contribute fruity or spicy notes also work well.

Why Grow it?

While you can easily pick up a jar or bulk-bin bag of coriander from any grocery store, there are benefits to growing your own coriander seeds.coriander seeds

  1. They’re fresher, guaranteed. It’s hard to know how long that jar has been sitting on the dusty shelf at the store. And fresher definitely does matter for coriander seeds. They lose their bright flavor faster than you’d expect.
  2. They’re often far more flavorful. I have managed to find pretty flavorful coriander from specialty spice merchants, but you might not have access to that–and otherwise most of the time it’s the same stuff–somewhat woody, totally round and dry. Growing my own has given me seeds of slightly more oval shapes with better, sweeter and zingier flavor that seem to be slightly less desiccated (though this will depend on environment).

How to Grow It

So cilantro (referring to the leaves of the coriander plant) isn’t always the easiest herb to grow. It’s fussy about temperature and water. Most times in my growing region (maritime) the growing season fluctuates too much and leads cilantro to bolt and flower early on. Which is frustrating if you were aiming for pico de gallo, but guess what happens after cilantro flowers? Seeds. Coriander seeds. As long as you manage to harvest the seeds before wind, animals or too much wet weather claim them, you’ll be set. So in conclusion: plant cilantro. Enjoy whatever cilantro you can before the hot weather spurs it to flower. Let flower, collect seeds, dry seeds, make beer (or spice blends, or whatever). Side note: the root is also edible and is a staple in some Thai curry pastes!cilantro flowers

More Resources

Although I am an avid gardener, long-time homebrewer, and scholar of beer, I’m not an expert in all climates or growing conditions (nor every possible imagined style of beer). Please refer to these sites for further and more detailed information. Cheers, and happy gardening/brewing!

Farmer’s Almanac

SFGate Gardening

BJCP Style Guidelines