In my never ending quest to try something new I am experimenting with a few unusual tastes this year. Some are doing well and others not so well. Already my roselle has died, much to my dismay – I was looking forward to my cranberry coloured drink. It was this cold snap that did for them I think, even though they were in the greenhouse. But the other oddities are doing OK and some have been planted out in the greenhouse border. First of these is papalo.
Papalo (Porophyllum ruderale) is a Mexican annual in the Asteraceae (formerly Compositae) that is used as a seasoning in Mexican food where it is known as Papaloquelite and is used particularly to season cemita which is a brioche type roll filled with avocado, meat, cheese and spicy sauce. Papalo is said to be something of an acquired taste and is sometimes called ‘Mexican coriander (cilantro)’. The taste is said to be strong and something between coriander and floor cleaner. The Spanish name for the plant is mampuitu which means skunk and the name papalotl means butterfly which I guess refers to the shape and placement of the pairs of leaves.
In authentic Mexican restaurants a vase of papalo sprigs is placed on the table so diners can add it to taste. It is always used fresh and raw.
So far I have been pleasantly surprised at how well the plants have grown. The seeds (really fruits) are narrow and long, rather like crepis seeds or an anorexic cosmos seed. I covered them with Perlite and they germinated readily and the seedlings were transplanted into cell trays and they soon started to produce their distinctive, blue-green, roundish leaves. I have now planted some out in the greenhouse beds among the tomatoes where they should, in theory, reach at least 1m high and produce chicory-like, purple flowers.
This is a plant that will need a second post later in the season but I have tasted a leaf. Obviously the plants are still small but it is recommended that only young leaves are eaten anyway because old leaves are bitter. It is a bit unfair to judge its use as a flavouring because I have only munched on a leaf, I haven’t added it to some tasty Mexican dish. But I can report that the taste is very odd. It is close to coriander, with a strange aftertaste that resembles rue but the immediate thought is that you have accidentally ingested some shower gel or floor polish. It does not taste like something you are really supposed to eat!
So I will reserve judgement on this one I think! I am not revulsed by it – I like coriander and am up for a challenge. But I don’t think I will be digging up parsley to make room for it. I will try a few plants outside to see how they get on too. It is said to tolerate high temperatures which makes it easier to grow in summer than coriander but I do not think that, despite the common name, it is a substitute for that herb.
Anyway, so far it is interesting, attractive and it is supposed to lower cholesterol and blood pressure so it may be worth developing a taste for it.