Cilantro: Are You a Friend or Foe?

The Polarizing Plant, Cilantro

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Cilantro, Coriandrum sativum, also known as coriander or Chinese parsley, can incite a repulsed reaction in certain people. As a frequent eater and huge fan of cilantro, I found it odd when I would come across someone who felt utter disgust for cilantro, claiming it tastes awful, like soap. To be honest, I figured they might just be picky or maybe had eaten some bad salsa once and blamed it on the cilantro. It turns out that their reaction is not just an overreaction. It is real and grounded in science. 

What Is Cilantro?

Cilantro belongs to the Umbelliferae family, and while native to the southeastern corner of the Mediterranean, it is now grown throughout many parts of the world. It is a hardy annual and quite easy to grow. The flat, broad, lacy leaves of this herb are referred to as cilantro, while the seeds are known as coriander. Both the leaves and seeds of the plant are highly aromatic but offer different tastes. That is where the interesting part comes in. 

Why Does Cilantro Taste Bad to Some people?

For those that are put-off, the taste is described as soapy or metallic, and the reference to the plant smelling like a stink bug is common. If that rings true for you, don’t fret—you are not crazy and you happen to be in good company.

Julia Child was vocal about her disdain of the herb, saying, “Cilantro and arugula I don’t like at all. They’re both green herbs, they have kind of a dead taste to me. I would pick it out if I saw it and throw it on the floor.” For those who feel the same way, the utter dislike for the herb is truly visceral.

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What scientists have discovered is that there may be a genetic link for this strong negative reaction to the smell and flavor of cilantro. A study done by a genetic research team at 23andme on over 14,000 participants of European ancestry found that there are at least two genetic variants that determine whether or not someone detects this soapy smell in the leaf of cilantro.

One of the variants has an olfactory receptor gene, OR6A2, which encodes for specific aldehydes that are present in the cilantro leaf and give it the characteristic odor. This is the gene they believe may be responsible for the perception of the soapy scented leaf.

Will You Ever Like Cilantro?

While your genes may predispose you to either love or hate cilantro, it’s not the only factor determining your herb preference, and it’s never too late to turn over a new leaf. According to one study done by a Japanese University, crushing the leaf may release enzymes that convert the aldehydes into another substance with no aroma making it more palatable.

Others have found positive results by slowly incorporating small amounts into their foods to recondition themselves to develop a taste for it. Whatever way you slice or dice it, if you are forever a foe of the green, lacy herb, by all means toss it all onto my plate!

If you’d like to become a friend of cilantro, find out how to grow it on our plant page.

Cilantro Recipes

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For the cilantro lovers out there, here are some delicious recipes!

Tell us about your experience with cilantro below!

~ By  Melissa Spencer

About This Blog

Melissa Spencer has long had a fascination with plants and doesn’t discriminate between wild, weed or cultivated. She owns Attar Herbs & Spices located in the beautiful Monadnock Region of NH and is celebrating 50 years of service. She actively writes, speaks, and shares ways to infuse herbs and spices into everyday life.

Herbs and Spices really are little bundles of aromatic seeds, barks, berries and leaves. They can enliven the family meal turning the ordinary into the extraordinary and into a fragrant delight of the senses. They can open up a world of exotic cuisines connecting us with faraway cultures and they provide us with amazing health benefits. Follow her blog for endless ways to spice up life for the taste of it, the joy of it, and the health of it.

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Cilantro

For me cilantro is like catnip to a cat! It excites me and I love it! The funny thing is that I can taste that "hint" of soap but yet it still attracts me in a hypnotic way!

CILANTRO

It is a heavy metal detox...I have acquired a taste for it...

Cilantro

Can't stand the stuff. REALLY can't stand it. Melissa, you may have my share, even in our next lives, ;0} ! Even a wee bit makes me feel as if I've just downed a mouthful of dish detergent, and is just as nauseating. Interesting thing is, my son likes it but my daughter reacts as I do. There are enough interesting, nutritious and different greens out there that no one who has a genetic reaction to cilantro needs to suffer from attempting to eat it. Just pick something else. However... I use coriander in baking and so does my daughter. We both like it but my son hates it. Go figure... Genetics...

Cilantro

Melissa Spencer's picture

Wow Samantha, that is so interesting how this has shown up in your family and the differences with cilantro AND coriander. I guess the genetic component in your family is really prominent. You’re right though…there are plenty of delicious greens/flavorings for anyone who can’t stomach it! Thanks for your comment.

 

Different people different tastes

Cilantro triggers migraines for me and tastes terrible. As a now hobby chemist there are many foods that people will taste as horrible. Cooking changes the chemistry so someone might say they hate raw broccoli but like it cooked. Even sugar is not spared as some people taste sweet and others taste bitter.

Cilantro

Health benefits of cilantro leaves (coriander) Cilantro herb is very low in calories and contains no cholesterol. However, its deep-green leaves possess good amounts of antioxidants, essential oils, vitamins, and dietary fiber, which may help reduce LDL or "bad cholesterol" levels in the blood.

Cilantro: Are You Friend Or Foe?I

I make a great tossed chicken salad that includes red and lots of cilantrol. At a neighborhood dinner, one of my neighbors said "Oh, that looks interesting, but my husband will never touch it. He hates cilantro." He put a little on his plate - I'm sure just to be polite. He tasted it and didn't say anything. But then he went back for seconds, and then thirds, and then told his wife that she should make this salad for dinner because he really loved it. His wife didn't speak to him for over a week. (And I'm guessing she never made the salad for him.) But we still love it at my house!

Cilantro

Sorry ... meant to say red grapes! (and obviously I can't spell cilantro either). ;-)

Cilantro:Are You Friend or Foe?

Melissa Spencer's picture

That is a great story Val! Hmmm….there might be more going on there than just genetics ;)  I’ll have to try the chicken, red grapes and cilantro combo, it sounds great!

Cilantro

I disliked cilantro from the very beginning. It was used in Thai dishes before I ever experienced it in the USA, particularly Hispanic dishes. I know other people who dislike it as well but the majority of my relatives and friends do like it. I dislike cilantro in its raw state but don't mind it cooked in dishes. I can't say that it tastes like soap or is metallic to me.

Cilantro

I think it's based on how much you eat. When I first began to dislike cilantro is when I had it growing in my garden next to parsley. I went out one day, picked some [thinking it was parsley], placed it in my mouth and began to chew; I nearly gaged. Soap, soap, soap was all I could think. However, I later found out that I can tolerate it and even like it if it's in small amounts within a recipe [not chewing it raw]. Hope this helps someone.

From the first time I tasted

From the first time I tasted it, I loved it. LOVED it. I don't understand how some think it tastes like soap. To me, it's such a crisp and fresh taste. I can't get enough of it.

Cilantro

I have come to really "like" and appreciate cilantro. The first time I tried it I recoiled.....it was the worst thing I had ever tasted! Yes, it tasted like soap to me!

I have grown it and slowly incorporated it into my homemade salsa, as well as other dishes and after about 10 years, I can honestly say that I like it a lot! It's so good for you and so fresh. It's definitely worthwhile.

Keep trying!

Cilantro

I love cilantro for me it had a wonderful fresh taste. I like it on broiled fish.

Cilantro

I am one of those people who find cilantro to taste like lemony dishwater, however, I don't mind the flavor if it is put into homemade salsa. I actually use a lot of it when I make my salsa.

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