There is nothing better than digging into a big bowl of fresh guacamole: avocado, tomatoes, garlic, lime juice and the more cilantro the better! So I was shocked when a family friend announced that cilantro was a disgusting herb that tasted like soap! How could she taste the same food that I find fresh and tangy and find it bland and soapy?
Luckily, science has a hypothesis that may explain the cilantro divide. According to several scientific studies, our genes may contribute to our like or dislike of cilantro. The genetics firm 23andMe conducted a genetic study of 30,000 persons and found a link between those that hated cilantro and a olfactory receptor gene known as OR6A2. If you have the OR6A2 gene you are more likely to find the soapy smell of cilantro overpowering, and not pick up on the fresh tangy smell. This is because cilantro has a fat molecule known as aldehyde. Aldehydes are also found in soaps, lotions and some bugs. People that pick up on the aldehyde/soapy smell of cilantro will then associate it as something hazardous to eat.
In the case of cilantro, I think it is more than simply some people disliking the taste. A connection is occurring in the brain telling the person, “Don’t eat this, it will make you ill.”
Another study also found that genes play a role in some people’s dislike of cilantro. Scientists with the Monell Chemical Senses Center questioned 527 twins regarding their like of cilantro and found three additional genes that are related to our taste perception of bitter and pungent compounds. These genes can also affect how a person perceives the taste of cilantro. The study was published in the journal Chemical Senses
So I guess our genes are at work when it comes to cilantro. If you dislike cilantro though, you are in good company as Julia Child famously disliked the herb and said if cilantro was in her food she would throw it on the ground. The studies also mention that if you dislike cilantro, don’t despair, you can attempt to overcome it buy mashing it into a pesto and by being around people like me who love cilantro!