Why some people hate cilantro

 cilantro and red onion bread

Cilantro is one food that sharply divides people. A small portion of eaters despise the herb, claiming that it tastes like soap and ruins any dish that it touches, while others enjoy the bright herbal flavor it adds to food. In the past couple of years, scientists have made considerable process in understanding why some people can't stand cilantro. The answer is apparently in our genes, specifically a genetic variation known as a single-nucleotide polymorphism (aka SNP).

The science is complex, but the explanation offered in the website is fairly easy to understand and includes a helpful graphic. The basic concept is that we all have specific receptors to process smells, but in about 10% of the population, one receptor is different from the rest. Instead of triggering the recognition of cilantro, this receptor signals the parts of the brain "that in the rest of the population are only activated by soap/bleach/death molecules."

The article doesn't explore any other factors that might influence one's perception of cilantro. I know that in my own experience, the first couple of times I tasted the herb I thought that it tasted exactly like a bar of soap. However, this perception diminished in subsequent exposures until I came to enjoy the unique flavor profile. Now I pile cilantro on anything I can even remotely justify adding it to. Has anyone else been able to "train" their palate to like cilantro?

Photo of Cilantro and red onion bread (Pan de cilantro y cebolla morada) from Lima: The Cookbook: Peruvian Home Cooking by Virgilio Martinez

4 Comments

  • Foodfann  on  7/8/2016 at 9:59 AM

    When I first had cilantro years ago, I hated it. But after some forced exposure through not being able to pick it all off in Indian restaurants, suddenly I was "addicted" to it and wanted to eat it right off the plant! My problem now is that frequently when I buy a fresh-looking bunch at the supermarket, it has no flavor at all. I have noticed this mainly since moving to FL. Has anyone else had this experience?

  • darcie_b  on  7/8/2016 at 6:32 PM

    Here in the Upper Midwest I have noticed some flavor difference between bunches but nothing dramatic.

  • hillsboroks  on  7/8/2016 at 8:01 PM

    I too used to find the flavor of cilantro a bit "soapy" but after many years of trying it in restaurant dishes and using bits of it in home cooking I have come to enjoy it. Maybe it is one of those herbs and vegetables that you need to keep tasting before you learn to like it?

  • SilverSage  on  7/9/2016 at 6:45 AM

    I was raised on a typical 1950's American diet of meat & potatoes. Cilantro wasn't used in most European based cuisine, which is where most 'American' foods originated. I was never exposed to cilantro until I was an adult. Even the Mexican restaurants in my city were very Americanized, and didn't include such an exotic herb. When I first moved to the southwest, the Mexican food didn't seem 'right' to me - go figure! I especially didn't like the cilantro. But after being exposed more and more to the foods of Mexico and Asia, I developed a real liking for it. Now in Florida, with fresh foods available year round, I've discovered the pairing of cilantro with citrus, mango, avocado, and other fruits. Cilantro is now a staple in my food - I always have a water glass full in the fridge. I use it for extra zing as often as I can. Just like adding a splash of acid to finish a dish, it kicks things up. (I'm really not going to say a notch). I don't buy the premise that it's genetic. I don't like peaches. You don't like mushrooms. She doesn't like fish. These are learned. If I grew up in a culture that ate cilantro on insects as a staple in my diet, I would probably love the combination. But growing up with such limited exposure to such foreign ingredients, it can take some time to develop an appreciation for them.

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