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Salsa Ingredient Kills Food Poisoning Better Than Some Antibiotics

May 27, 2004 -- Cilantro -- those flavorful green specks in salsa -- kills germs that cause food poisoning.

At the University of California, Berkeley, Isao Kubo, PhD, and colleagues found that salsa juice fights several nasty germs. As any Mexican food aficionado knows, salsa contains tomatoes, onions, green chiles, and cilantro. But which one is the germ killer?

Most of us would suspect the green chiles for burning up germs. But being chemists, Kubo and colleagues looked at cilantro. They knew this flavorful member of the parsley family is loaded with "volatile compounds" likely to affect bacteria.

One of these compounds -- dodecenal -- turns out to be the main bug slayer. Kubo's team tested it against salmonella, a major cause of food poisoning. Dodecenal killed the germ better than the antibiotic gentamicin. The findings appear in the May 26 issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

"We were surprised that dodecenal was such a potent antibiotic," Kubo says in a news release.

He suggests that the compound could be used as a food additive to prevent foodborne illness.

But simply adding cilantro to contaminated tacos -- or any other food -- won't make it safe to eat.

"If you were eating a hot dog or a hamburger, you would probably have to eat an equivalent weight of cilantro to have an optimal effect against food poisoning," Kubo warns.

Cilantro is also known as coriander leaf. Coriander seed, a popular spice, is the seed of the same plant. While cilantro is in the parsley family, it's not the same plant as the flat-leaf parsley often called Italian parsley.

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