Our Hatred (Or Love) Of Cilantro May Be Genetic

cilantroThe devil’s garnish.

Photo: Flickr/ercwttmn

If you hate the herb cilantro (also commonly known as coriander) that’s often found in staple Mexican dishes like guacamole, you aren’t alone. And now researchers have started to figure out why: A new paper found several genetic variants that are linked to the green garnish’s potentially soapy taste.The garish garnish is often found in Mexican food, but shows up in almost every type of cuisine.

From Ewen Callaway’s article on the delicious discovery in Nature:

“O soapy flavour / Why pollutest thou my food? / Thou me makest retch,” reads one of the hundreds of haikus posted to the website IHateCilantro.com. There is clearly sympathy for this stance — 21% of east Asians, 17% of people of European ancestry and 14% of people of African descent say they dislike the stuff, according to a paper published this year in the journal Flavour. By contrast, 3–7% of south Asians, Latin Americans and Middle Eastern subjects disapproved of the herb, which is more common in their native cuisines.

By surveying the genes of nearly 30,000 people, researchers at the personal genetics company 23andMe identified two genetic variants that change the way someone perceives the taste of the leafy green, at least one of which is linked to how a person senses smells. As much as 80 per cent of what we perceive as taste actually comes from smell, and the gene makes people more sensitive to chemicals known as aldehydes that give cilantro it’s characteristic flavour.

The genetic link is complex and could involve multiple genes, the researchers say. It’s likely that only a small per cent of cilantro-hatred is genetic, possibly about 10 per cent. The rest is probably cultural or a learned preference.

See more at Nature, including a recipe for a cilantro pesto made especially for those who hate cilantro (hint: crushing the greens speeds the chemical breakdown of the soapy-tasting molecules). And visit ihatecilantro.com to commiserate with fellow anti-cilantrites.

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