A Blog Around The Clock

Do you love or hate Cilantro?

If you think that political or religious debates can get nasty, you haven’t seen anything until you go online as see how much hate exists between people who love cilantro and those who hate cilantro. What horrible words they use to describe each other!!!!

Last weekend, I asked why is this and searched Twitter and FriendFeed for discussions, as well
Wikipedia and Google Scholar for information about it.

First – cilantro is the US name for the plant that is called coriander in the rest of the world. In the USA, only the seed is called coriander, and the rest of the plant is cilantro.

Second – there are definitely two populations of people: one (larger) group thinks that it is the best taste ever, while the other group thinks it is awful. The latter group is not simply incapable of tasting cilantro – they can taste it in minuscule quantities hidden in food and describe it as “dirty dish-soap water taste”. People who cannot stand cilantro leaf are perfectly OK with eating the coriander seed. So, it is something in the leaf that makes the difference.

Third – anecdotal information from scouring the Web suggests (“me and my Dad hate it…”) that the type of response to cilantro is inherited. It is also not experiental (those who hate it, hated it when they were kids, those who love it sometimes first tried it when they were already old and loved it at first try, and the response does not change with age, amount, kind of food preparation, etc).

Fourth – there is no scientific literature that I could find on the genetics of this. Is the difference at the level of the gustatory (or olfactory) receptors, or at higher-level processing centers in the brain?

Fifth – there is one paper that shows that the type of response to cilantro taste has nothing to do with the individual being a supertaster or not.

Sixth – There are a few older papers that identified chemical compounds in the leaves of cilantro, and a few about the allergy to cilantro, but no final identification of the compound that makes the difference in taste to the two groups.

So, does anyone else know more about this? Let us know in the comments.

In the meantime, be nice to people who are not your cilantro-type – they cannot help it.

Comments

  1. #1 Liz Ditz
    April 25, 2009

    Anecdote not data:

    Bora, I’m a cilantro lover. My daughter’s father was sort of ho-hum (liked salsa with some cilantro, not a lot.).

    Our daughter hated cilantro from age 18 months (first remembered exposure) until about age 14. Wouldn’t eat salsa with cilantro. Then around age 14, she converted to cilantro-lover. Now even likes cilantro-based pesto.

    Dad was “super-taster” — loathed broccoli, cauliflower, complained loudly about it being cooked for others.

  2. #2 John
    April 25, 2009

    I don’t really have strong feelings about cilantro one way or the other. It kind of depends on the dish. I do like coriander, though.

  3. #3 Chris Clarke
    April 25, 2009

    That distinctive flavor comes from aliphatic aldehydes, most notably our friend dodecanal, but also including alpha,beta-unsaturated trans-2-tridecanal and other aldehydes.

    There are also, for the cilantrophiles, a few other plants that share the suite of chemicals in varying proportions and with others, including the southeast Asian Rau Ram (Polyganum odoratum), Culantro (Eryngium foetidum) from the West Indies, the Mexican-US native Papaloquelite (Porophyllum ruderale), and the East Asian Houtouynnia cordata, sold in this country as an ornamental groundcover and reviled by many as an invasive plant.

    In my admittedly anecdotal pile of data, people who hate cilantro tend to hate all these plants.

  4. #4 Matthew Platte
    April 25, 2009

    I’m sorry I missed last week’s issue wherein I would have compared the taste of cilantro to dish water – but I see that got covered anyway.

  5. #5 CCW
    April 25, 2009

    I can taste the soap, but I still use cilantro in cooking. The first time I knowingly tasted it was in a bad of pre-packaged lettuce with herbs. Let me tell you, it was a nuisance to pick those little leaves out. It seems the flavour eventually grew on me several tubs of salsa later. I used to dislike the seeds in large amounts too. Neither part of the plant is commonly used where I come from.

    Having said that, years of my mother hiding it in my soup never fixed my aversion to celery, nor to parsley in its cooked state.

  6. #6 Gemfyre
    April 25, 2009

    I used to hate coriander and I thought it tasted like soap. But then I spent 9 months living in close proximity to people who used it a lot. First I started to like the smell, then I started having some in my food. By the time the 9 months was over I was addicted to the stuff.

    My mum hates it though. So perhaps there is something genetic there, but you can learn to love it anyway.

  7. #7 Coturnix
    April 25, 2009

    I guess it is possible to learn to love disgusting stuff – like Durian. After all, beer, coffee and stronger drinks are bitter and painful at first. Likewise with hot peppers. It is like going on a rollercoaster – enjoying doing something scary and moderately painful because there are other reasons (self-esteem, social acceptance, the feeling of being inebriated, etc.) that make it worth it.

  8. #8 Jennifer
    April 25, 2009

    I’m a Cilantro hater with yet more anecdotal evidence. :) Mom and I both hate it; dad and my brother don’t seem to notice it one way or another. I hate it more than my mother does, but I’m more sensitive to flavor than she is too. Actually, we both have pretty finely discriminating taste buds, whereas my father can just about tell if you sneak garlic into his dinner.

    I hope you find stuff out on this one.

  9. #9 Joseph j7uy5
    April 25, 2009

    I love it. In fact, I have some growing in my front yard. I suspect that part of the secret is in how it is used. Mixed up with hot peppers, cheese, and some kind of sauce such as pesto, it is quite good. By itself, not so much.

  10. #10 AlexL
    April 25, 2009

    I’m sorry to hear. The people I’ve met who hated cilantro but don’t seem mind it in small amounts, at least in my salsa verde recipe.

  11. #11 Tony P
    April 25, 2009

    In a dish I’m fine with it. By itself it has the dirty dishwater taste. It’s weird, I was making some guacamole and the recipe called for cilantro.

    As I had never used it before I took a little nibble. Blech! But once combined into the guacamole it was fine.

    But then I know people who can’t tolerate the taste of processed garlic, even cooked!

  12. #12 Mark C. Chu-Carroll
    April 25, 2009

    I’m in the “dishwater” group. I’ve learned to tolerate a certain amount of it, but I still think it tastes like soap. Interestingly, my father agreed; both of my siblings and my mother don’t.

    The seeds don’t bother me at all; I use them all the time. But I pretty much *never* use fresh cilantro in my own cooking, and do my best to avoid it elsewhere.

  13. #13 Carolyne
    April 25, 2009

    HATE with a passion.

    Cannot eat in Vietnamese or Thai restaurants because I don’t know which dishes it is in and cannot eat any that have it.

    HATE HATE HATE

  14. #14 chezjake
    April 25, 2009

    Add me and my daughter to the soap tasters list. I do make my own salsa and guacamole, but always use ground coriander seed instead of cilantro leaves — the cilantro addicts still think it’s pretty good.

    Note: My observation is that cilantro leaves lose the soapy taste when cooked into a dish — it’s only the uncooked ones that bother me.

    For what it’s worth, my daughter and I are both PSP tasters.

  15. #15 um-yes
    April 25, 2009

    cilantro looks sinful in my garden! love it in salsa and salad dishes. <3

  16. #16 Stephanie Z
    April 25, 2009

    I neither love nor hate it. I’m in the group that thinks it’s awful on its own but is just fine with it in something else.

  17. #17 Karen
    April 25, 2009

    Here’s my anecdotal experience with cilantro: the first time I tasted it (in a salsa at a Mexican restaurant in Denver), I thought if freshness could be identified as a taste, cilantro would be it. I still love it and use it in salsas, stews, eggs, anything I’m randomly fixing. I do understand the anti-cilantro group, though, because I won’t eat ANYTHING that has tarragon in it. It is the most vile thing in the world to me. I’ve asked, I would guess, around 50 people over the years if they like one or the other, both or neither. I have found it interesting that (again, a guess) a small majority of the people I have asked like one or the other and have a very strong dislike for the one they don’t like. Few people have been neutral.

  18. #18 Christopher Taylor
    April 25, 2009

    People who cannot stand cilantro leaf are perfectly OK with eating the coriander seed.

    My own anecdotal experience is that coriander root is also fine with those who can’t handle the leaves.

  19. #19 Barn Owl
    April 25, 2009

    I’ve eaten salsas and guacamoles with cilantro most of my life; my parents, sister, and nephew all like it as well. I agree with the description of the taste of cilantro as “freshness”. I also wonder whether the subtle differences between homemade pico de gallo recipes here have anything to do with the use of papaloquelite vs. standard cilantro.

    I had the cilantro discussion just the other day with a couple of older colleagues, and then the discussion morphed into opinions about hot peppers, specifically pickled jalapenos. I love jalapenos, especially on pizza or sandwiches, and one of my colleagues insisted that I must enjoy pain. I told him that it was exhilarating, not painful, and then he said I must not have a refined sense of taste. I think my senses of taste and smell are pretty sensitive, at least in terms of absolute detection and subtlety … it’s just that I don’t always judge smells or tastes to be unpleasant when others do. Good that I almost always follow recipes, I suppose.

  20. #20 Monimonika
    April 25, 2009

    “Raw cilantro = soapy dishwater” for me. I think I can stand very small amounts drowned in salsa, but would prefer none if possible. I’m also a non-coffee drinker (I can only enjoy the aroma), as well as a non-tea drinker (though I strangely enjoy expensive powdered green tea). Alcoholic drinks are also on my blegh!-list.

  21. #21 Coturnix
    April 25, 2009

    Ah, search my blog for “hot peppers” ;-)

  22. #22 The Science Pundit
    April 25, 2009

    Cilantro lover here.

    Minor nitpick:
    It’s not just the US. The plant is also called cilantro in Latin America. (at least it was by everyone I met when I was down there)

  23. #23 Monado
    April 25, 2009

    I saw something on TV where cilantro was put into a gas-chromatograph-looking thing and separated the molecules. there were a couple of spikes in the output. People who loved it could smell the first spike. People who hated it could not smell the first spike but could smell a second spike that the others could not.

    I’m a cilantro lover and agree that the taste seems to be essence of freshness.

    I suppose that people who hate it at first but then get used to it acquire a taste for the second smell.

    The show might have been Discovery’s Daily Planet or Mythbusters.

  24. #24 teddlesruss
    April 25, 2009

    Taking a sociological/folk psychology view of the dichotomy and what causes it. “Me and my dad hate it” seems more likely to signify a cultural bias for/against cilantro. We model our behaviour on one or other (or both) of our parents, and therefore when we’re small and see Dad pull a face and declare a hatred of the herb, we’re likely to approach our first experience with a preconceived notion.

    To properly test the genetics theory you would need to study a group of families over several generations. Then if the attitude towards cilantro varies in accordance with genetic principles, you have proof of the hypothesis.

    Personally, going on a very large sample (world’s population) would say that there isn’t a gene for cilantro, but that it’s cultural, i.e. Asian populations are expected to have as much genetic diversity as European populations, yet there is scarcely a person in Asian countries that dislikes cilantro. That would tend in my mind to point to cultural influences.

  25. #25 Coturnix
    April 25, 2009

    I would rather see a molecular genetics look at receptors. That may be a much quicker, easier and more reliable approach than pop-genetics.

    But anyway, I really like how people are bringing in new information into the thread – we are all learning more about this. Perhaps someone will one day do a study and let us all know….

  26. #26 Aaron Golas
    April 25, 2009

    Glad to see I’m not the only one with moderate like of cilantro. Reading the post, I was starting to think maybe love it or loathe it were the only two options!

    I can kinda taste the soapiness, and I actually kinda like it.

  27. #27 Monado
    April 25, 2009

    Found it! National Public Radio: “Getting to the root of the Great Cilantro Divide.”
    I got it backwards. The first smell from the gas chromatograph came about 20 minutes and was the “soapy” one. It was identified as unsaturated aldahydes. Ten minutes later, the cilantro-lovers identified a pleasant smell that the cilantro-hater couldn’t detect. The article doesn’t say what that molecule was.

    As I’ve read elsewhere, it’s not related to being a supertaster of some bitter compounds–although that might make you dislike vegetables in general.

  28. #28 Barn Owl
    April 25, 2009

    The hot pepper posts are great, Coturnix! I used to have a Shetland sheepdog who, as a puppy, chewed the baseboards and door frames in my rental house. To stop him from doing this, I smeared Tabasco on the surfaces. For the rest of his life (12 years), he barked every time I took the Tabasco bottle out of the fridge (which is pretty often in my house). If I held the bottle down close to him, he would curl his lips and nip at it. Pwned!

    No dog I’ve ever had will even lick at a cilantro leaf that falls on the kitchen floor though. I wonder if a cat or a bird would try it?

  29. #29 Debbie
    April 25, 2009

    I don’t know if it is genetic. My parents both love it. My husband and I hate it. Our daughter loves it. I never thought of it as a soapy taste, to me it is like a jarringly disagreeable aromatic chemical flavor. I can tolerate it in salsa but not in Asian cooking (I’m Asian).

    I also hate the smell of gardenias (it makes me physically ill), but other flowers are OK. My son thinks that eggplant has the worst penetrating flavor but to me it is bland and pleasant. Obviously we taste it differently. Could it be that people who refuse to eat vegetables also taste something that “normal” people cannot.

  30. #30 Coturnix
    April 25, 2009

    Tabasco sauce, as you know, works wonders with horses who chew at doors, crib-bite/windsuck, or tear their bandages with their teeth.

  31. #31 Adela
    April 25, 2009

    I’m one of those cilantro allergy so the flavour doesn’t matter.
    I hate getting doses of it when some idiot mistakes it for parsley an adds it in a dish that shouldn’t have it. But cilantro is trendy round here so “ethnic fusion” cooks are over using it in everything.

  32. #32 cm
    April 25, 2009

    Sorry this is a bit off topic, but does anyone here hate the taste of CUCUMBERS (but is OK with pickles)? My wife and I share that dislike, to the point where I don’t understand why people would like it at all, and people say to me, “They don’t taste like anything.” I can see them being refreshing, but there is this “chemical” taste to them that I find pretty unpleasant. (Sorry, not really sure if I’ve even had cilantro).

  33. #33 Dave C
    April 26, 2009

    Mhmmm. . .cilantro! *drools*

  34. #34 doctorgoo
    April 26, 2009

    Cilantro hater here… it just ruins Thai food for me. I can east Durian as long as it’s right off the tree, and still a bit young.

    But I draw the line at cilantro. Nasty, nasty stuff that is.

  35. #35 danae
    April 26, 2009

    I realize this comes with no references & falls in the category of complete hearsay/urban legend, but I had heard at one point that the “soapy” tasters reacted thusly due to a potential mild allergic reaction to the herb?
    Any truth to this? And yes, I’m too busy to actually research it. More finals this week.

  36. #36 Phila
    April 26, 2009

    There does seem to be no middle ground…never met anyone who could take it or leave it.

    I’m nuts about it, myself. Even make pesto out of it sometimes.

  37. #37 Kathryn in California
    April 26, 2009

    I don’t mind the taste of cilantro, and I certainly don’t mind the smell. However, I cannot get used to the taste of soap they always forget to rinse off of the leaves. i.e. Take a sprig of cilantro and rub a bar of Ivory soap on it. That’s how it is to me.

    I can tell there’s something good, but unless the soap is diluted (in salsa, say), the soapy taste ruins the nice taste.

  38. #38 Aquaria
    April 26, 2009

    My son doesn’t like cilantro, but I love it. We have a 24-hour fast food Tex-Mex chain here in San Antonio that puts it out on the condiments bar. I always load up a ton of it whenever I go.

    There’s also a dish popular in Reynosa, MX and its sister city, McAllen, TX, called, appropriately, Tacos Reynosa. Basically, you get served fajita meat, tortillas, onions, shredded Asiago or Oaxaca cheese, and a ton of cilantro. Load up a tortilla with the rest of the stuff, roll it up, chow down. Heaven.

  39. #39 Cath the Canberra Cook
    April 26, 2009

    I like fresh coriander leaf quite a lot. The extremism does seem a bit strange to me.

  40. #40 Benjamin Geiger
    April 26, 2009

    In general, I’m a “hater”. I can handle it in small amounts, or thoroughly disguised. Too much, though, and it’s nasty.

    Other foods I can’t stand include onions (oddly enough, the flavor is fine; I can’t stand the texture), celery, tomatoes, and bell peppers.

  41. #41 Catharine
    April 26, 2009

    I have heard of the cucumber aversion before. Personally, I can’t tolerate rye and caraway seeds in particular (I’m allergic to the latter.) It’s sad when I go to Katz’ and want a pastrami sandwich and it gets put on a sub roll or something.

  42. #42 CCW
    April 26, 2009

    When I say that I use cilantro in cooking, for the most part, that means it gets added at the very end in its raw state, straight off the plant on my windowsill (the slugs apparently thought the one in the garden was rather tasty).

    Regarding cultural influences: I’d never heard about cilantro tasting soapy or people having extreme aversions to it before I tasted it for the first time. Nor did I know that my mother thinks it tastes soapy. When I learned to like it, the only person I was shopping and cooking for was myself. Why did I keep eating it? I’m a fan of assertively seasoned food, I guess.

    I share my dislike for parsley and celery with my dad, but I never knew he couldn’t stand them until I confused some celery leaves on my mum’s windowsill with another herb, tasted some, winced and realised why I’d never liked her vegetable soup.

  43. #43 djlactin
    April 26, 2009

    I’m a “cilantro tastes like soap” person. I also loathe green peppers (can tell if an apple has been in the fridge with one). AND just as an oddity: my mother had the same reaction to bananas.

  44. #44 bioephemera
    April 26, 2009

    I’m not a huge fan of cilantro, but it works REALLY well in a cucumber martini. And no one has ever compared our cucumber martinis to dishwater. :)

  45. #45 llewelly
    April 26, 2009

    I love cilantro, especially lots and lots of it. I have two brothers and a sister who like moderate amounts of cilantro, but hate the huge amounts I sometimes use. I have another sister who hates cilantro entirely. I have a mother and another brother who claim cilantro has no taste. To me saying cilantro tastes like soap is like saying beer tastes like chocolate. That is to say cilantro and soap have some common aspects, but no more so than beer and chocolate, which are both bitter. Anyway my dishwater always has an overpowering lemon-jolly-rancher-like taste, not a bit like cilantro.

  46. #46 Julia
    April 26, 2009

    I’m a hater, too. I think it tastes like spoiled coconut, though I can see the dishsoap flavor now that you mention it. (I like coconut, btw, but it’s flavor seems unnatural in an herb.)

    Cilantrophobes: use fresh parsley in your salsa! It is muy muy delicioso.

  47. #47 DuWayne
    April 26, 2009

    The thing I find most interesting is the rancor with which some folks treat this discussion. It is pretty remarkable to me that there are so many people who have such very strong feelings about it…

    I happen to be a lover myself – great in salads, salsa and my very best pasta sauce recipe…

  48. #48 Mal Adapted
    April 26, 2009

    There are also, for the cilantrophiles, a few other plants that share the suite of chemicals in varying proportions and with others…

    Sierra sanicle (Sanicula graveolens), a member of the parsley family like cilantro, is native to the Pacific coasts of both North and South America. I find it smells and tastes just like cilantro. It’s reportedly used as a cilantro substitute by some indigenous Chileans.

    Note that graveolens means “strong- or ill-smelling”.

  49. #49 Anne Casper
    April 26, 2009

    You’re right on with this cilantro post! I think the stuff tastes disgusting, and I can detect it in any dish even in the most minute amounts, I swear. Coriander seed is fine, though. And to add to the genetic angle, my parents and little sister don’t like cilantro, either.

  50. #50 The Mad LOLScientist, FCD
    April 26, 2009

    I was introduced to cilantro in college by a Chinese friend, who called it Chinese parsley. To me it just tastes a little like celery. Don’t love it or hate it per se, but have to avoid it because it makes my chest feel tight and sort of asthmatic.

  51. #51 Liz Ditz
    April 26, 2009

    Tabasco sauce, as you know, works wonders with horses who chew at doors, crib-bite/windsuck, or tear their bandages with their teeth

    1. Unless you have the odd duck, like my first event horse, Casey who loved the stuff. And bell peppers, lattes, and beef jerky.

    2. My darling daughter still sucked her thumb at age eight, and found herself frustrated by her inability to break the habit. “Mommy, I’m sucking before I know it.” Observing the use of hot sauce to deter the horses from gnawing on the fence, she tried it on her thumb. Her idea, not mine. Worked.

  52. #52 Coturnix
    April 26, 2009

    My first horse liked slivovitz. My second loved tangerines (I could always catch him out in his paddock, but others had to lure him with tangerines if they wanted to have any chance of catching him).

  53. #53 Kathryn in California
    April 26, 2009

    DuWayne
    The thing I find most interesting is the rancor with which some folks treat this discussion.

    Think about how it’s only been recently that there’s widespread acknowledgment of supertasters. Imagine being a child supertaster with parents who simply will not believe how extremely bitter some foods taste, because they themselves cannot taste it. The parents think the child is complaining for no reason whatsoever, because the food–taste tested–is fine. The child is trying to eat “inedible” food and thinks (knows) that the parents believe the child is lying.

    Other than supertasters, I don’t know how many people have the experience of a popular food that tastes dreadful to them. If you don’t otherwise understand this feeling, then the problem of cilantro might not make sense.

    You have two sets of people where the beliefs of the “other side” are insulting. If you love cilantro, then people asking you not to use it are calling your cooking inedible (and for no reason whatsoever). If you hate cilantro, then people using it are ruining foods to you (and for no reason whatsoever).

    I’m more neutral than most cilantro-soap-taster people, but I still wish that the cilantro-soap-nontasters would *believe* us. It’s one thing if the cilantro is used throughout a recipe, but if cilantro is only added at the last minute, then consider letting the diner add it himself.

    At a science event I went to recently, they let you test for some known genetically-linked tasting abilities. There were strips of paper with chemicals on it. I remember how one piece of paper tasted only like paper to me, but my good friend winced with the bitterness. “Now you know what cilantro is like for me,” I said.

  54. #54 kayaa82
    April 26, 2009

    i work in an olfaction lab at duke university—- the story behind cilantro is that there is a pleasant smelling chemical component of the cilantro leaf that people who are cilantro-haters cannot smell. you can check out an NPR story about cilantro and the Wysocki Lab at Monell Chemical Senses in philly, pa.

    NPR LINK:
    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=98695984

    pretty cool stuff!

  55. #55 Sassafras
    April 26, 2009

    The first time I ever cooked with coriander leaf, I made a tomato and coriander rice dish. I was cooking for friends, and found myself in the position of not having any rice to serve because I assumed that if one taste made me retch, it would be the same for everybody. But people insisted on having a taste and pronounced it delicious.

    I still can’t eat coriander leaf (I love the spice), and if I eat some by mistake (in a pre-prepared salad, for instance), then I will be sick. Dramatically and soon.

    I might add that I am generally deeply sceptical of self-diagnosed food intolerances and keen to try new foods, so I find my inability to keep down cilantro pretty embarrassing.

  56. #56 jen_m
    April 26, 2009

    I discovered that my father hated cilantro after I had independently determined I hated it, and we both identified the flavor as soapy (not dirty-dishwater – just excessively soapy). I have, however, habituated myself to cilantro. I still loathe it in large quantities but have managed to get to the point of tolerating it in smaller amounts by dint of repeated exposure.

    I have no food allergies or intolerances, but I dislike two other vegetables that most people consider have no natural flavor: celery and parsley. I eat them, of course, because they’re ubiquitous, and I even include them in recipes, but still, ick.

    I’m not a supertaster and I’m a non-taster on all of those little strips, so my preferences, at least, are unrelated to the commonly tested polymorphisms.

  57. #57 Jim
    April 26, 2009

    Uhmmmmmmm…Coturnix just how does one determine a horses preferences for alcoholic beverages? Oh let me guess, the horse was Serbian.

  58. #58 Monado
    April 26, 2009

    Maybe the moderate cilantro-likers are heterozygotic.

  59. #59 Coturnix
    April 26, 2009

    Monado: “Maybe the moderate cilantro-likers are heterozygotic.”

    I thought about it. Also, there are apparently two (sets of) molecules in the cilantro leaf: one that is unpleasant and one that is very pleasant. So, perhaps some people can smell only the unpleasant molecules (strong cilantro-haters), some can smell only the pleasant molecules (strong cilantro-lovers), some can smell neither (indifferent – can and will eat, but don’t really care), and some can smell both (can eat in small quantities, or when well cooked – they are “learned” cilantro-likers for whom the positives of the nice taste are more important than the negatives of the unpleasant smell). Then, if there are also variants of the receptors, or heterozygosity, that can explain the spectrum of people’s opinions on cilantro.

  60. #60 Coturnix
    April 26, 2009

    Also, if it is a set of unpleasant-tasting aldehydes, perhaps some people can smell the entire set, while others can detect only one or two of them.

  61. #61 Interrobang
    April 26, 2009

    I’m another cilantro-hater. I wouldn’t necessarily describe cilantro as tasting like “soapy dishwater,” though; the usual epithet I use for it is “mouldy shower curtains.” I can tolerate small quantities of it in certain things (salsa verde, sofrito, and pho), but otherwise, I hate the stuff. I made sofrito once, and while I thought the sofrito itself was tasty (there’s something in it that seems to neutralise the worst of the mouldy taste, possibly the raw alliums), I found I had to scrub down my work surfaces and open the window to get rid of the smell of the cilantro.

    I don’t know for sure, but I may be a super-taster. My sense of smell is almost certainly more acute than the average person’s. I used to work in a perfume shop blending oils for customers, and they could bring me the dregs of a bottle of something they’d bought someplace else years ago, and I could usually reproduce (or if not, at least identify the required ingredients) the perfume for them. I can pick out the smell of, say, minute quantities of spikenard or ambergris in a bouquet of ten other oils.

  62. #62 i
    April 26, 2009

    I have the same intensity of aversion to licorice and anything else with that distinctive aniseed flavour like fennel. It tastes disgustingly medicinal, decidedly headache-inducing and deeply unpleasant.

    Love coriander though, with an equal intensity. I use coriander like I do lettuce – so aromatically fresh! Life would be incomplete without it.

  63. #63 Eva
    April 26, 2009

    It seems like it doesn’t have to do with having super or sensitive taste or not- but that people are just experiencing the same scent or flavor entirely differently.

    For example- I LOVE cilantro with a passion, but cannot stand Japanese shiso leaf and it is absolutely offensive to me. I cannot even describe how obnoxious it tastes to me. Like cilantro, some people love shiso leaf or don’t mind it.

    I also have an ultra keen sense of smell where anything that smells bad to me will literally make me sick even in the slightest detection.

    Interesting to reflect upon how different people experience totally different scents and flavors from the same ingredients!

  64. #64 Gwen
    April 27, 2009

    Something I’ve found interesting over the years is that people only semi-averse to cilantro have different reactions to the ‘leaves’ versus the ‘stems’ (they are both part of one compound leaf, but I think you get the idea?). The flat parts have a different flavor to me than the stem-like cylindrical part, and often people I’ve cooked for sometimes even actively like the flat leaf-like portions…. but abhor the stem-like. Anyone else tried this?

  65. #65 Rick R
    April 27, 2009

    I found this post by following a link from Pharyngula. What an interesting discussion!
    I am averse to a few foods, and from childhood, I was labeled (and came to identify myself) as a picky eater.
    I’m 48, and have never been able to stand the taste/texture of onions. It’s much worse when they are raw (restaurants that get my hamburger order wrong have an especially hot corner of hell reserved for them) but even cooked down in pasta sauces, I’m not a fan. I’m the only one in my immediate family with this reaction. Onions used in things like tuna salad, salads of any sort, or on sandwiches et al just really really turn me off. Red, white or yellow, it doesn’t matter. I avoid them at all costs. And don’t even ask about deep fried onion rings…
    The suggestion that aversion could be the result of an allergy seems odd to me. I have a few mild food allergies (have occasionally reacted to peanuts, wheat and a few other common allergens. But have only experienced full blown anaphylaxis once, when I reacted to peanuts and wound up fainting dead away). But in my experience, a mild allergic reaction to some foods leads to CRAVING them, not an aversion to them. The effect seems to be mildly narcotic, like having a slight alcoholic buzz.
    Onions don’t give any sort of physical reaction or symptoms, I just find their flavor and texture repulsive. Go figure.

    For the record, I’m also a cilantro hater. Several years ago, it came into fashion with tex-mex, also nicknamed “fresh-mex”, which to me just means “we put TONS of cilantro in everything!!”
    The only way I can tolerate it is in very weak concentration is some salsas, but I can’t have any of the leaf itself on a chip. It’s too much. My subjective experience of it is that it’s sooooooooo STRONG. It seems to completely overwhelm any other flavors in the food it’s used in. Like others have said, I experience it as a sharp, pungent, soapy taste that’s highly unpleasant.
    I’ve never really thought about these things beyond concluding they were just personal quirks. A guy I used to work with had a similar reaction to, of all things, lettuce. He just couldn’t stand it. I always thought “stand what? The taste is so mild, it’s practically non-existant!”

    I came to the realization we were having completely different sensory experiences to the same substance.

    (Sorry for the long post. Very interesting topic!)

  66. #66 Daniel MacArthur
    April 27, 2009

    Personal genomics company 23andMe is encouraging their customers to report whether or not they hate cilantro (along with many other traits, in a series of online surveys). The plan is to combine these reports with the data they have collected on over 500,000 markers from each customer’s genome to look for common genetic variants associated with each trait.

    If hating cilantro has a relatively simple genetic basis (i.e. one or a few common variants of large effect) 23andMe probably already knows what that basis is, and will publish it soon. If the genetic basis is more complex (e.g. multiple rare variants) it may take a lot longer to unravel.

  67. #67 DuWayne
    April 27, 2009

    Kathryn in Cali -

    Thanks for explaining. Honestly, it does little to make the rancor with which I was greeted during one of these conversations any more palatable, but it does make more sense. In that case I had merely stated that I thought it was really interesting that some people have such a powerful revulsion to cilantro when I happen to really rather like it a lot.

    I also got attacked once on a recipe thread, when I posted my cilantro, tomato pasta sauce recipe (sorry, but that one would definitely be off limits for those who can’t do cilantro) because it uses a whole lot of cilantro. The funny thing about that, is that nearly everyone who tried it the first time I made it – loved it. But that was at a regular hippie potluck and (mainly due to food allergies) everyone listed ingredients – so I would guess that folks who hate cilantro simply avoided it.

    I guess this just seems strange to me, because I come from a perspective that tends to assume that people really shouldn’t be required to eat things they don’t like. More importantly, I don’t think they should eat things they are allergic to and I would tend to consider such an intense revulsion akin to an allergy. I have certainly never taken offense because someone happens to dislike something I made, hell, sometimes I don’t like what I made.

    Very interesting things to think about, thanks again Kathryn.

  68. #68 bluefoot
    April 27, 2009

    I love cilantro, but only fresh cilantro. Dried cilantro makes me want to barf. Even just a whiff of dried cilantro is enough to put me off eating.
    My mother is a cilantro hater. I have no idea about my dad, because my mother never cooked with cilantro while I was growing up. Interestingly, her sister and my cousin both love cilantro.

  69. #69 fizzchick
    April 27, 2009

    Great discussion, so I thought I’d add one more data point. I can’t stand floods of fresh cilantro, but I have gradually grown accustomed to small amounts in foods where it “fits” with the cuisine – salsa, Thai food, etc. It doesn’t taste soapy to me, but Interrobang’s description of “mouldy shower curtains” comes close. I also strongly dislike licorice/fennel/anise flavors. However, I love many other members of the same plant family, including dill and parsley. I’d be interested in how/why small chemical changes can result in such a drastically different response.

  70. #70 Chupacabra
    April 27, 2009

    Don’t know if this is relevant (or contradictory), but I was in the virulently anti-cilantro camp until I was about 15–found it so revolting that it actually triggered my gag reflex. Then one day that perception of the soapy/awful taste changed COMPLETELY, and it is now one of my favorite herbs. I went from one extreme to the other, so I would be curious to know how that jibes with the theories that it’s genetically predetermined.

  71. #71 Thoryke
    April 27, 2009

    There are days I introduce myself as probably the only Latina who can’t stand cilantro. There’s an aromatic note to it that makes me feel nauseous [I hadn't thought about calling it a soap taste before, but I don't think soap is especially appetizing]. I have used corriander as a spice, and that’s fine.

    The idea that there’s some attractive scent hiding in cilantro that I can’t detect is very interesting — I am a supertaster, but there do seem to be things that my mother can detect by scent and I cannot [a side note, I suspect that may be related to the fact that I do not normally notice when people are flirting with me -- there may be some chemical signal that I simply fail to tune in...].

  72. #72 ElPico
    April 28, 2009

    I never ate cilantro or chilis until my mid-40s, when I started working with a couple of women from rural Northern Thailand. They were generous and excellent cooks, and we fell into the habit of sharing lunch every day. If everyone brought mild food, they would eat small, VERY hot chilis on the side, as is. They said that if they didn’t eat them every day, they just didn’t feel right. I always wondered why I always felt so happy walking out of a Thai restaurant. Later on I found out about the endorphins and that people who are deprived start jonesing for it. Eventually I got used to it, but lost my tolerance when I stopped eating highly spiced food on a daily basis. My pet Amazon parrot won’t touch chilis, or anything else that is red, for that matter. I have no idea why. I like cilantro as long as it is raw. On the other hand, I can’t stand licorice, dislike anise, and love fennel. Maybe I am an outlier.

  73. #73 IHateCilantro
    April 28, 2009

    I guess I’m part of this debate with my ihatecilantro.blogspot.com blog and the chastisement from “F*ck Yeah Cilantro” blog which has found a recent fan base. Needless to say I hate the stuff, plain and simple, but find this hate an apt muse for writing about all kinds of things: social commentary, philosophy, etc.

    To each his own: tell you the truth I think most of us haters would sooner like the stuff–it is such an annoyance not to. But being as it is, might as well band together and embrace the hate. Know what I mean?

  74. #74 kathryn in california
    April 28, 2009

    DuWayne,

    I think one problem is that the words “dislike” and “allergic” aren’t sufficient.

    To say one is ‘allergic’ to cilantro implies, well, allergies. But most anti-cilantro people aren’t allergic, they’re not going to need epipens or require medical intervention. It wouldn’t be polite to use the word “allergic,” because it weakens its use for true allergies.

    However, “dislike” or even “hate” tends to imply a level of choice which just doesn’t exist for cilantro. For example, I dislike some sports, but to be polite I can sit through a game. I may hate a particular song, but will tolerate it because a friend is listening to it.

    I cannot eat soap, but it doesn’t mean that I “hate” soap or that I’m “allergic” to soap: it just is inedible.

    Too bad we don’t have a word that’d express this concept for foods that have chemicals only some are able to taste.

  75. #75 Sok
    April 29, 2009

    Just to say that in Spain we use the word “cilantro” too, maybe it came to the US through spanish. By the way, I hate cilantro and I can’t understand why is so popular these days.

  76. #76 Chris
    April 30, 2009

    Ugh, it tastes like soap. Throughout my entire life I could not understand why Mexican food had this off taste. When we traveled to Mexico, I thought I would get better authentic food… but no, it still had that off soapy taste (though I did find that there is other good food you can order without the off-taste, an excellent fish dish).

    When I cook food that requires cilantro, I substitute oregano.

    Though I don’t think I am as sensitive as others. I went to a neighborhood tapas bar and had their fruit salad with cilantro. As long as the leaf was big enough to remove I was fine, otherwise it was melon or citrus flavored soap!

  77. #77 Jane
    May 6, 2009

    I hate cilantro’s taste and smell, but I love Thai food. If you say “No pak shi [pok shee?] please,” when you’re ordering at a Thai restaurant, the waitperson will smile and write it down. Then you can enjoy the meal without having to pick little leafy bits out of your food.

  78. #78 Jeff Hanna
    June 10, 2009

    The first time that I ate fresh cilantro was at a Vietnamese restaurant years ago. I thought it was parsley, popped it into my mouth and nearly went through the ceiling. VILE! It has a soapy, chemical, ( and slightly celery-like flavor, although I like Celery) that is absolutely repellant to me. The smell of fresh Cilantro is also repulsive. No other herb or spice causes this visceral, almost skin-crawling disgust.
    Like others here, I can take bits of it in Salsa, or a small amount cooked into dishes – and I definitely like Coriander seeds as spice – but I’m amazed that so many people love quantities of fresh Cilantro, and that it is constantly called for in recipes, as though certain food writers see it as a delicious crowning touch. YUCK!!!!!!

  79. #79 Marty Cold
    July 12, 2009

    I cannot stand the flavor of the “stuff” and thought that my wife was just trying to be hip using it but guess there are people that really do like it. I use celery leaves in everything that calls for the nasty little flake. I see where someone uses oregano. Thanks and will try.

  80. #80 Jim
    July 27, 2009

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=98695984

    The issue has to do more with smell than taste. As in the above article, you can find out for yourself by holding your nose while you eat something with cilantro.

    If you read to the bottom, you will see that it has to do with those who dislike cilantro (myself included) not being able to smell the particular smell which those who like cilantro associate with it.

    Now I take issue with this somewhat, because based on my own experience it would seem likely that those who can smell the “good” can’t smell the “bad”. My reasoning is based on the fact that I can taste cilantro in even the smallest amounts in a dish, where as my girlfriend who likes it often does not believe it is in there until we check with the chef. If this “good” smell were so strong that it could over power my “bad” smell, wouldn’t it be even easier for her to identify it in food? Also, given the extreme nature of the “bad” smell itself, I would think that large amounts of cilantro would be overpowering, even to a “good” smell candidate, because the “good” smell would have to be incredibly potent to overtake the bad.

  81. #81 Marion Delgado
    July 29, 2009

    Absolutely hate and despise it.

    And in Eugene Oregon you cannot avoid it. It’s in the mother’s milk and it’s in the beer at the wake.

  82. #82 Kurt
    October 2, 2009

    I want to like it. Been trying for 10 years. I will try anything and I eat a lot of exotic stuff. There are many foods I am impartial to, but cilantro is the only thing I’ve ever eaten that I abhore. I have to believe (as the evidence suggests) that when cilantro lovers taste it, they are having a completely different sensory experience than I am.

  83. #83 RaleighRob
    November 25, 2009

    Aversion to various spices and herbs is nothing new. But with cilantro, there are two additional factors: One, it’s big in Latin American and Asian cuisines (among others) and over years they are becoming more and more popular in the US. Two, it is one of the more strong herbs, which makes cilantro lovers crave it while making cilantro haters even more repulsed.

    But it’s not unique. While the smell of cumin makes my mouth water, I’ve met people who are nauseated by it. I’ve met people who can’t stand rosemary, tarragon, and even sage. My mother isn’t fond of garlic. And I don’t really care for mint because it reminds me of toothpaste & mouthwash.

    So it’s nothing new.

  84. #84 Moe-kie
    November 30, 2009

    I’m in the hater camp. I don’t remember ever hearing about Cilantro growing up, and it wasn’t until recently (the past 10 years or so), that I noticed it’s use coming on like the plague. I don’t really notice a soapy smell, more like a very offensive chemical odor, and if I accidentally eat it, I get symptoms very similar to being car-sick…queasy, dizzy, and a general icky feeling all over. My brother and dad don’t like it, my mom never uses it, but I guess she could ‘take it or leave it’, as could my son. Me, I hate it with a passion. Just the smell of it makes me feel ill. Nasty stuff.

  85. #85 mandiful
    December 2, 2009

    I had no idea about this weird “controversy” if you will, until Thanksgiving when my cousin, who is a chef, expained to me that some people perceive cilantro as “soapy” tasting. I thought that was interesting and remembered my soapy food encounter. A few months back I made some soup, chicken tortilla, that called for both cilantro and coriander seeds. Forgetting the correlation between the two (since I had first discovered that coriander seeds will begin to grow on your un-kept cilantro plants) I explained that coriander seeds were the worst tasting soapy, chemical tasting things ever!!! This is interesting to me because they say that a dislike for the leaves is not correlated to the seeds…I love the leaves in dishes, but the seeds are a cooks worst nightmare. I am also a super taster..Don’t know if this has any significance.

  86. #86 Polly
    December 18, 2009

    This one is for Coturnix:

    so I say this as a biologist, and no, I have’nt worked on any gustatory sense research; my only claim to it’s familiarity is attending Prof Linda Bartushok’s lecture a lone time ago:
    The psychophysics of sensory stimulus is a bit on a relative scale (excepting when there are clear non-tasters); so, that would mean if one has receptors for a particular stimulus (it may be the one in the cilantro soap tasters, that these are very high in number); now, as someone who has an interest in neuroscience research would know, there are instances where the number and type of the receptors can be modulated just depending on the amount of stimulus received: as an extreme eg.: drug addiction); Ergo, one would imagine that the category of people who fall under the soap tasters, there are very high number of receptors for some “soap cilantro stimulus”. Now, if these people were to, per force, encounter the stimulus in high amounts, there will be some degree of saturation, and regulation through a feed back loop, ergo, they will find themselves being able to tolerate it.
    The other aspect being genetic: wherein the binding changes due to a certain mutation in the receptor gene(s); In this case there also maybe allelic contribution depending on if only one parent is contributing the “mutated” allele; however, even with these people there maybe modulation through numbers.
    I’m trying to say that it is a complex problem, and unless the receptor for that particular stimulus is identified, it is not easy to say how much of a genetic component is involved. I suppose if the “soap tasting” component in cilantro is identified, it would be easy to wade through it all. Further, it is probably easier to look for people who actually don’t taste cilantro at all (which means that a whole battery of receptor genes are absent in these population), as against those who taste it at all.
    Second Q: would there be any animals that would have an “avoidance or attraction” response for cilantro extract? (including animals like C elegans, or Aplysia). It would be fun to see if there is such a response :), and would be easier to identify at least some receptors?
    Would appreciate any comments and input on that.

  87. #87 Kelvin
    December 24, 2009

    I think the cilantro preference may be an acquired preference. I used to hate cilantro when I was little but as I become older, I begin to appreciate the cilantro taste.

    As a side note, most of my family like cilantro but I don’t know when they started to like it. However, I do have an aunt who hate cilantro all her life.

  88. #88 matt
    February 19, 2010

    the taste of cilantro reminds me of when I was a child, the neighbors always had Chemlawn come out and treat their yard, if the wind was just right when they were spraying, you could taste a really nasty chemical taste….perhaps that ruined my chance of ever giving cilantro a chance…?

  89. #89 philip greene
    March 9, 2010

    I hate cilantro, to me it has the odor reminiscent of a dirty fish tank. I had tropical fish as a kid, and if you went too long in between changing the water, or the filter wasn’t working too well, the tank would get a really funky, pungent odor to it, not at all pleasant, and that is very similar to cilantro (to me)

  90. #90 Tonia
    March 27, 2010

    I am a cilantro HATER and I will eat just about anything. I am the one who can pick it out in the tiniest amount. I would also like to point out, I will try just about any type of food as well. I love cooking, think I am an excellent fearless cook, but cannot stomach cilantro. Even the smell of it makes me hold my breath. It’s the bitter sweet taste on my tongue. I am trying to imagine tasting it now to give you the correct details that make me hate it and find myself holding my breath. I have never thought of soapy water in correlation to cilantro though. I believe, for me, it’s the little peppery zing in it that is what makes me not like it. I love spicy food and I love pepper but it’s different in cilantro. Like a minty pepperish flavor. I am probably describing something that sounds appetizing to most people, and am wondering why I don’t like it based on my description. I don’t know. Again, I will eat just about anything, but can pick out cilantro in everything I eat and try to avoid it at all costs. Like a child, I will pick out any speck of cilantro I can find in my food before I eat it.

  91. #91 Ima Cilantrohater
    April 20, 2010

    i DESPISE cilantro…yet, my son, who hates just about anything and everything, thinks it tastes just fine – so there blows that family conspiracy theory somebody wrote about up there.

    anywho, to me, cilantro is akin to the fine taste one would experience by sucking on the power cord to a vacuum cleaner after it overheated.

    btw, on another website, a guy wrote that he not only hates cilantro, but also gags at the taste of artificial cherry flavor (like the kind you’d find in most hard candy) – OMG, so do i…

    and i’m not all that picky of an eater – seriously!…yet, lemme add another hate, while i’m at it (LOL – but hey, maybe these are all somehow related in terms of chemical sensitivity?) – i despise artificial smoke flavor to the same degree as cilantro and artificial cherry – like that of chipotle – or most ANY bar-b-q sauce that has smoke flavor…absolutely gut-wrenching.

    i’d be curious to know if any of you who gag at cilantro, also despise artificial cherry and/or smoke flavor – or are there any other flavorings you can think of that make you wanna hurl real bad like that? please post! thanks. :)

  92. #92 NatalieS
    April 28, 2010

    I LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOVE Cilantro. I literally can NOT fathom how anyone could not love it. I grow gobs of it in my garden.

  93. #93 Susan
    June 14, 2010

    I actually like cilantro – it has a fresh, green taste to it – but only for a bite or two. By the third or fourth bite, my mouth is burning & my stomach has a sharp, sour feel – not quite nauseous or burning, but close. Perhaps that feeling is what makes people say “soap”? I am certain that my stomach would feel exactly that way if I actually ate soap.

    (For awhile, we thought it was lemongrass that was doing it to me – & then I accidentally ate something with lemongrass that didn’t affect me at all. We were at a loss until we were able to identify the “green bits” in a food that made me have the above reaction)