23 February 2012

How to keep Coriander leaves (cilantro) fresh in the Fridge

My fridge always has three things that I consider essential to my cooking: coriander leaves, lime and chillies. The latter two stay quite well when simply tossed in but keeping the coriander leaves fresh has taken a bit of experimentation. When I first started to maintain my own kitchen I asked around aplenty for the tricks people use, and discovered that there are as many way of doing this as there are recipes for garam masala. Here's mine for the record.

Step 1 - Buy Fresh. If you have a limp set of bruised leaves to begin with, there is no way you can be Nurse Herb.

Step 2 - Pick and soak.
Once the coriander leaves are home, don't abandon them and wander off to watch the Lord of Rings Trilogy. The leaves require immediate attention. If you aren't able to process them right away, do the Coffin:  wet a hand towel thoroughly and wrap it around the entire bunch, roots and all. The Coffin can be shoved into any corner of your counter. If you think that you'll be taking more than 24 hours to pick out the leaves, you can put it into the fridge at this point. The longest I have left the Coffin in the fridge is 48 hours, making sure the towel is wet the whole time.

You can do the pick and soak routine while doing other tasks like watching TV, arguing with your mate, listening to a podcast or gawking at pigeons on your balcony. You will need a bowl with lots of water and somewhere to store the discarded stems (great for the compost bin). I normally pick the leaves with a bit of stem still left on them and remove brown and black leaves at this stage. You can do this to the degree that you are obsessive. Toss leaves into bowl of water as you pick them off. Every few ticks, plunge your fingers into the bowl to make sure all leaves are covered in the water. My bowl here is a salad spinner. Things are pretty nifty if you are using a spinner. I do two washes (saving the water for the plants) and then a few rounds of spinning. The leaves should look dry but feel moist between your fingers.

For all those who pouted when you read salad spinner because it is not yet an item on your kitchen shelf, here's the alternative. Rinse the leaves in a couple of changes of water or how many ever times suits your paranoia. In India the leaves I get are quite mucky so rigorous rinsing is a must. After the final rinse, lay the leaves on a dry kitchen towel making sure you spread the leaves evenly over the surface. You are ready for the next step when the leaves look dry but feel moist between your fingers. This does take time depending on how hot and humid your kitchen is. You can speed it up by making another Coffin (with a dry towel though).

Step 3 - Store
Take a suitable size container (preferably plastic) which has a tight lid. I have tried using the stainless steel dubbas with holes in them - useless. Don't worry about squashing too many leaves in. As long as the lid stays shut once all your leaves are in, and you hear some rustling movement when the container is shaken, you are good.
Line the bottom with paper. I use supermarket receipts, ATM receipts - all those receipts that somehow find their way into my purse. Put the leaves in. I put another receipt on top. Close the lid and shove into fridge. This container typically lounges on the shelf right about the crisper on my fridge.

Other notes:
  • Leaves have stayed fresh in this system at my home for at least 20 days.
  • To most working folk, this whole rigmarole might seem like too much time. Train your maid to do it - my modus operandi! The protocol above is the Standard Operating Procedure for processing all green leafy veggies in my kitchen.
  • OK so don't have a maid to do this. Well, you can actually shove the whole bunch, as it is,  into a box as described in Step 3. The paper receipts, I have discovered, are excellent at maintaining the right humidity in the box. The annoyance in cutting through Step 2 is that each time you want to use the leaves, you would have to rinse them. I have done this in the past and not seen any difference  in longevity if the leaves are not picked. It basically boils down to how much time you have.
  • I think the reason this works well is that the receipts and the closed environment somehow keep the leaves at an optimum humidity. Often the receipts are wet to touch after a few days in the fridge. If your receipts are getting too wet ( as wet as if they had gone for a walk in the rain), you can replace them.


  1. Great advice. Now I know how to keep greens fresh in my fridge. Thanks, Megha! Can you also provide a solution to the problem of keeping rotis/chapattis fresh in my fridge?

  2. This really works! I have now done it twice in a row and as a result I have fresh corainder leaves for "garnishing" my meals. Thanks a lot Megha. I have a question. Can one do this with any kind of herb, such as basil or is it specific to coriander?

    Shoots :)

  3. ChumpFan: Haven't figured out the best way to keep Rotis fresh. At our home we keep changing our flour composition so it's been tough to work out a standard system.

    Shoots: The formula works for all greens but you might not seem the same increase in freshness lifespan. In my hands, Basil and Kadipatta only stay fresh for about a week.

  4. Hi Megha,
    Thanks for this useful tip. Can u please let me know, how can I keep lettuce fresh for longer time in fridge?

  5. Anni: I have only tried this a couple of times with lettuce. Separate the leaves from the base, wash thoroughly (Step 2) and follow with step 3 for storage. I find that keeping the leaves intact (whole) during storage prolongs their refrigerator life. Hope this is useful

  6. Thanks so much for this tutorial! I did this for a friends wedding party and it worked jolly good. It lasts the whole evening

  7. May I venture to give my way of spin dry. I use it to dry palak and okra. Now I will use it for coraiander too. I make a lose coffin of kitchen towel, a square shaped one and put it in the centre of my square based washing machine and spin dry for about half a minute. And viola, the palak is as dry as ever. Please don't laugh. My friends do.

  8. How cool! It's always fun to discover a process with existing resources, rather than adding to the pile of one-time use appliances. So I say, you go girl.

  9. Enjoyed reading this. It really does not matter what you had suggested works or not... I got my ROI already .. Keep writing

  10. nice idea.. i'll suggest to my wife.

  11. Loved it especially your sense of humor...I only line the bottom and top of the container with unwashed but picked leaves. I don't wash them except when I am cooking with them.

  12. Loved it especially your humor. I usually line the bottom and top of the container with unwashed but picked leaves in between.

  13. But these receipts fade after a while ... does the ink on it gets on the coriander?

  14. Manasi,

    Never really paid attention to this. You are right, the receipts do fade. The wetter they are, the more they bleed. In this system, wetness is what you are trying to avoid, so replacing the wet receipts promptly might do both - reduce humidity and prevent the bleeding?

  15. Hi Megha,

    Thanks for the great tip! This has been a challenge. But in place of receipts, can't we use paper towels?

  16. Hi Sherlynna,

    Of course. Go for it. I think everyone needs to optimize this for their container and fridge - the point of the receipts is to soak up extra moisture, so paper towels would do the job too.

  17. Many receipts have BPA, but maybe cotton towels would work?

    1. The thin cotton towels (tea towels) might work fine, but not the turkish ones. The storage should allow adequate moisture control and also air circulation, else the leaves with blacken faster. I found it messy to have them rolled in towels though; but that's a personal preference. Go with whatever works for you!

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  21. Fyi, paper and particularly modern day receipts, contain highly toxic chemicals. Scientists recommend pregnant women not to touch them and if they do touch them, to avoid touching their face etc. & wash hands as soon as possible.