My loathing of cilantro – time to do some research
For the umpteenth time I this weekend encountered someone who claimed that it’s a gene that makes a percentage of the population dislike cilantro (fresh coriander) so much that they cannot eat food where there’s even just one leaf of it.
This time I thought I’d do some research. You see, I’m a part of that percentage. Cilantro ruins food for me, which is so sad because it’s used frequently in some of my favourite food – for instance Indian and Mexican.
First, googling on the issue only added to my confusion. No doubt it’s a hot issue. I found several discussion boards  with lovers and haters of the weed (yes, it deserves no other name). I was quite amused.
“Fie, fie evil weed!
You might as well unload an entire squeeze bottle full of dish washing liquid down your gullet, it’s the same taste.”
“I love cilantro, or coriander as it’s known in the UK. I buy it in little jars in oil and it’s so yummy I can eat spoonfuls straight from the jar. And I have it on pasta with olive oil and nothing else. mmm”
Another post describes the taste as “Road tar, old cigarette filters, mothballs, paint thinner, etc.”
Yep, that’s what it tastes like to me too.
However, there was very little fact. I wanted scientific research, a name for the gene variation, some 30 page medical essay to refer to. I found… well, I did find a by the way mentioning of it in a paper at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) website (pdf document):
Taste of Cilantro-Some people like the taste of cilantro. Other people hate it. There is actually a genetic polymorphism for a receptor that influences the way a person senses the taste of cilantro. Nobody knows for sure, but it is probably a codominant trait.
Individuals with one or more copies of one variant tend to taste it as “soapy” or unpleasant.
But that was all. Just a bunch of blog posts or discussion board posts, people saying this is the way it is, but not referring to any sources where I could verify it. The web is tricky that way.
I guess I’ll have to make due with the comment at the UIC website. And then this article – here’s an excerpt from an article in the Arizona Republic (only available through Google’s cache, so I won’t link to it. It’s written by Barbara Yost if anyone wants to look it up):
The soapy taste could be attributed to the pungent aroma of cilantro, says food scientist Sara Risch of Science by Design, a Chicago consulting firm. Some people are more sensitive to that aroma.
“We know there are some aroma compounds some people absolutely cannot smell,” Risch says. “It comes down to genetic differences.”
Here’s another clue: The name coriander comes from the Greek word “koris,” which translates to bed bug, which is how some people describe the smell.
But loathing foods (remember the senior George Bush’s screed on broccoli?) is a complex issue.
“Cilantro has both a taste and a smell and a mouth feel,” says Marcia Levin Pelchat, doctor of sensory psychology with Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. “All of those contribute to the flavor. We think there is some sort of genetically based differences in taste.”
Scientists believe a gene is missing. But who’s missing it, those who love a food or those who hate it?
“No one knows,” Pelchat says. “Probably everyone has a slightly different sensory world.”
What does cilantro taste like to you?
Archived comments from my old publishing system:
Fredrike from Stockholm writes:
Very few people understand this metaphor, but to me it tastes like headache.
M-o-m: 6 – 2004-11-10 15:45