Cilantro is a staple of southern food. You can find it used with almost anything, especially tacos and salsa. There are even restaurants and food trucks dedicated to the herb, like Chi'lantro in Austin, Texas. Though is it widely used, people are often torn between liking the flavor or not. It's likely you've met people on either end of the spectrum, but never in the middle. It's one of those flavors that people really love or really hate.
What is Cilantro?
Cilantro is the little, green leafy part of the coriander plant. Both the leafy part and the actual plant can be used as seasonings. It is most commonly used in Spanish, Southwestern and Caribbean meat dishes and pairs well with steak and chicken, fruit salads and is even used in dressings.
Why the love/hate relationship with Cilantro?
While there are definitely picky eaters in the world, there's actually a biological reason that some people just don't like the taste of cilantro. Warning: we're about to get sciency on you.
A study performed at the National Twin Day Festival in Ohio in the early 2000s found that 80 percent of identical twins tested shared their like or dislike for the herb. However, only 50 percent of fraternal twins shared the same tastes. Because of this study, genetics firm 23andMe decided to take a closer look at what was going on. While asking 30,000 people if they like cilantro or not and what it tasted like to them, they analyzed each subject's genomes. The study showed similarities in a group of smell receptor genes that detect the smell of soap in the subjects who said that cilantro made salsa taste like bubble bath. This group of people also tended to share one gene in particular, OR6A2, which picks up the scent of aldehyde chemicals.
What are aldehyde chemicals?
We thought you'd never ask. They are organic molecules that contain a carbon bonded to a hydrogen and double bonded oxygen. There are several different aldehydes and each have a distinctive smell. For cilantro, there is more than one aldehyde causing the distinctive smell. Those aldehyde chemicals also happen to be a byproduct of soap making.
The OR6A2 gene isn't the only one contributing to the distaste of cilantro. Scientists believe there are a few more, but for now, we know that genetics plays a part in why cilantro tastes like soap to some people.