There are many herbs and spices used all over the world. Every nationality has certain spice and herb mixtures that make them unique to their particular island. Trinidad and Tobago is no different. There is an herb that the Trinidadians use called shado beni. This more pungent cousin of cilantro is very popular and used in many dishes. This crop is mainly used as a seasoning in the preparation of a range of foods including vegetable and meat dishes, sauces, chutneys, soups and preserves. In addition to its culinary usage, shado beni is also used for its medicinal properties, among them as an anti-inflammatory and analgesic.
Shado beni as its called in Trinidad is a completely different plant than cilantro. Shado beni had long serrated leaves where cilantro has a resemblance to flat leaf parsley. Because of the aroma and flavor similarity the leaves are used interchangeably in many food preparations and is the major reason for the misnaming of one herb for the other. While relatively new to American cuisine, shado beni has long been used in the Far East, Latin America, and the Caribbean. In Asia, shado beni is most popular in Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore where it is commonly used with or in lieu of cilantro and topped over soups, noodle dishes, and curries
In my kitchen I tend to use either herb. Many times it has more to do with one being “fresh” over the other. When I am teaching a class on the culinary delights of Trinidad, I will always use shado beni. While in the class I will explain the differences beyond appearance. Similar in flavor the shado beni is stronger and more pungent. Most people are familiar with cilantro. I do love the look on peoples faces when I ask them to chop up this herb that to them looks like a dandelion leaf.
Although used widely throughout the Caribbean, Latin America, and the Far East, shado beni is still mistaken for and erroneously called cilantro. The herb is rapidly becoming an important import item into the US mainly due to the increasing ethnic immigrant populations who utilize it in their many varied dishes from around the world. It is closely related botanically to cilantro but has a distinctly different appearance and a much more potent volatile leaf oil. Recent research to prevent bolting and early flowering will increase its leaf yields and consequently its demand. Successes in prolonging its post harvest life and storage under refrigeration will undoubtedly increase its export potential and ultimately its popularity among the commonly used culinary herbs.