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What is the history behind the names " Chinese Parsley" and "Cilantro"?

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  • This might be better for the English language community. Unless of course someone here knows! Then you came to the right spot :) – Caleb Dec 15 '16 at 9:09
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    Coriander is native to Asia, and, as everyone in Europe knew way back when, that meant China. "Cilantro" is derived from the Spanish word for "coriander". – Hot Licks Dec 15 '16 at 13:01
  • Sorry, I aside this was migrated from Cooking.SE, but it's not a good fit here either. If the question is purely etymological, then it can be answered by a dictionary, and so is off-topic as "general reference". If the answer is historical and cultural, then it can't be answered by experts in English (and I would assume Cooking.se would have been the best place to ask). – Dan Bron Dec 15 '16 at 13:20
  • @DanBron I have to correct you here. Cooking.se is not "anything about food" and we do not have the expertise to discuss cultural and historical aspects of food or eating. We are focused on cooking only, this means food preparation. If you think that this question is out of place here as a language question, you can vote to close, which will simply result it in being closed on both sites. – rumtscho Dec 15 '16 at 13:36
  • @Hot Licks: in my experience, coriander is much more common in Indian cuisine than in Chinese cuisine. And in fact, Wikipedia says it's native to southwestern Asia and southern Europe. I would guess it's called Chinese parsley because the English in the Middle Ages didn't differentiate very well between India and China. – Peter Shor Dec 15 '16 at 13:37
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The term Chinese parsley appears to have originated in the United States near New York City in the late 19th century. The OED's first citation is from the New York Times in 1895, although Google books finds an 1893 reference, discussing the same Chinese-American farms mentioned below.

This 1899 Google books reference explains how Hen Shang started a farm in Astoria (in Queens, NYC) around 1880, where he grew Chinese vegetables. After he proved successful, he was joined in partnership by some other Chinese immigrants, and several others started their own farms. One of the crops mentioned was Chinese parsley. Other crops were yun tsoi, bok tsoi, and Chinese eggplant.

So it seems probable that many New Yorker's first exposure to cilantro came from the cilantro grown on these Chinese farms in Astoria. It looks something like parsley; hence the name.

The names coriander and cilantro are both ultimately derived from the Latin word coriandrum, which in turn comes from ancient Greek name for the herb, κορίαννον ‎(koríannon), coming through French and Spanish, respectively.

  • Wait, Chinese eggplant? Wuzzat? The Chinese call tomatoes ‘Western eggplants’, but I'm assuming Chinese eggplants probably aren't tomatoes… – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 15 '16 at 17:46
  • @JanusBahsJacquet: "Chinese eggplant" are a variety of eggplant that is longer and thinner than the usual "Western" eggplant. They also tend to have fewer seeds, thinner skins, and a milder flavour. – Michael Seifert Dec 15 '16 at 17:59
  • @MichaelSeifert So presumably just what the Chinese would call eggplant, then? Never knew there was a difference! – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 15 '16 at 18:00
  • @Janus: the 1893 article also mentions "Chinese pumpkins". I have no idea what these are. But searching in Google books, this seems to be some kind of squash with green rind and white flesh. – Peter Shor Dec 15 '16 at 18:54
  • @PeterShor At least it's not Chinese watermelon. That would be a proper catch-22: the Chinese for ‘watermelon’ is ‘Western melon’! (Unlike pumpkins, which are ‘southern melons’.) – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 15 '16 at 18:59

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