Home » growing herbs » Boom or Bust? (How to Tell if Coriander Seeds are Viable)

Boom or Bust? (How to Tell if Coriander Seeds are Viable)

So. I found this on a shelf in the basement the other day:

coriander seeds

What is this unholy bag of beige tangle, you ask?

This is a whole mess of dried cilantro plants that went to seed at the end of last season. The bag has been hanging out in the basement, forgotten and abandoned for about six months now. I got so excited when I stumbled upon it thinking that I basically had a never-ending supply of cilantro seeds, but something troubled me. Usually, when I save seeds, I’ll label what they are and their season. This bag of cilantro seeds didn’t have any markings.

And then it came back to me – I think I had to pull these plants out of the ground before the first hard frost came and killed them, but I remember thinking that the cilantro seeds were still pretty green and didn’t look fully matured. So I shoved the plants in a paper bag and threw them in a corner to save for “something or other.”

Yet and still, I wondered if they were viable, so I did a couple of quick tests. The first one is the float test. Generally speaking (there are always exceptions, of course) but dried seed that is viable (i.e. likely to sprout) will sink in water. So, I threw about 10 seeds at random into a teacup with room temperature water and let it stand for about 30 minutes to see what happened.

coriander seeds

It’s hard to tell, but I can assure you that not a one sank. That’s a good first clue these guys weren’t ready for prime time.

But, not one to be deterred, I tried a second germination test that’s also super easy: the Wet Paper Towel in the Plastic Bag method.

As the name would suggest, dampen a paper towel, fold it over a few times, put some questionable seeds in between the paper towel, and stick the bag in a sunny place.

coriander seeds

coriander seeds

Check the bag often, once or twice a day. If the seeds are viable, you’ll see things like radishes, lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers start sprouting in a few days or so. It may take a week or two for seeds with harder husks like coriander, beets, spinach and corn to show any signs of germination. I waited eight days and … nada, except for some moldy seeds.

coriander seeds

So, as I expected, this batch of coriander seeds was just a little too ripe to be used to grow more plants but, as with a lot of herb seeds, they are perfect for cooking. Coriander seeds in particular smell like Fruity Pebbles when you crush them, and they taste very citrusy with a hint of grass, kind of like eating a bit of lime and fresh parsley at the same time. So, very much yum good delicious.

The coriander seeds may not make it to the garden, but they now have a home on our spice rack:

coriander seeds

You can toast the seeds and eat them whole for a strong pa-pow! of flavor (I’ve honestly been eating them as-is, just popping a couple into my mouth at a time). Or, you can crush the seeds in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle and sprinkle the powder on everything from lamb, pork, chicken and fish, to potatoes, squash, carrots and corn.

This recipe from Jamie Oliver using coriander seeds sounds fab.

Our plans for these citrusy sweeties?

We’re going to crush them (“I’m crushing your head!”) with some cayenne, mustard seed, salt, pepper, sugar, garlic and oil, and we’ll rub that gorgeousness on some pork. Dear Lord, please forgive me for the impure thoughts I am having.


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