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Why I hate cilantro
And many others do too.
Why is cilantro able to awaken such an expressive repulsion in some people? And who is to blame, anyway? Cilantro, or our taste buds?
Cilantro, or coriander (Coriandrum sativum L.), is an aromatic herb that is of great importance in worldwide gastronomy, especially in Latin America and Asia. Having originated in Southern Europe, cilantro was spread to several parts of the world in the satchels of merchants and was adopted in the culinary scenario of several cultures. In Portugal, cilantro is a faithful friend of our cuisine, or it wouldn’t be seasoning dishes like açordas, amêijoas à Bulhão Pato, stewed favas, and many other recipes.
In fact, cilantro is an excellent herb, filled with antibacterial, anticancer and antioxidant properties. It’s actually a good idea to use cilantro in food, it’s a healthy tip.
However, there is a margin of the population that hates cilantro. And we’re not talking about disliking or picky eating regarding this ingredient. We’re talking about total repulsion. And thus, we enter one of the most disputed battles of the culinary world.
I must start by professing my hatred towards cilantro. For some time I tried to assume that it would be a tantrum of mine, that as I’d age I would end up delighted, cutting cilantro into my yogurt sauce. But there was no such epiphany, I still don’t like cilantro. And like me, there are many others.
The characteristic odor of cilantro is due to a series of aldehydes that are present in the plant, such as n-aldehydes and (E)-2-alkenals. The odor is, in fact, the main fracturing point, not so much the flavor.
Between its enemies, it’s common to hear a description of cilantro’s odor as being similar to hairspray, soap, insects or urinated grass. Delicious!
Once again, science comes around to explain why we are as we are. According to recent studies, it is now known that the hatred towards cilantro is something we inherit from our ancestors. This transmission is not only cultural but also happens at a genetic level.
First of all, there seems to be a strong ethnocultural association to the cilantro love and hate deal. One study concluded that there is a larger probability of not liking cilantro between populations originating from Eat Asia (21%), Caucasians (14%) and Africans (14%), while there is a smaller percentage of rejection amongst populations of Southern Asia (7%), Middle East (3%) and Hispanics (4%) . But this rejection is most probably based on genetic modifications that are associated with these very same populations.
Current propositions pinpoint the hatred towards cilantro in genetic modifications regarding olfactive receptors. The gene OR6A2 (and potentially other neighboring genes) codifies an olfactive receptor that detects that wonderful soap-odored aldehyde that cilantro possesses . Thus, the people that express that (those) gene(s) are lucky enough to sit at the table and feel that their dish was seasoned with Persil (ironically, the word persil is synonymous of parsley, which also gathers many hatreds). Meanwhile, people who do not express these gene(s) detect a fresh, lively and peppery odor, without soap. There are lucky folks in this world.
For those who feel the need to express their hatred towards cilantro, we’ll leave a few support groups that can help you out: http://ihatecilantro.com and https://www.facebook.com/I-HATE-CILANTRO-54754722016/.
Do you like cilantro?
 Mauer, L., & El-Sohemy, A. (2012). Prevalence of cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) disliking among different ethnocultural groups. Flavour, 1(1), 1-5.
 Eriksson, N., Wu, S., Do, C. B., Kiefer, A. K., Tung, J. Y., Mountain, J. L., … & Francke, U. (2012). A genetic variant near olfactory receptor genes influences cilantro preference. Flavour, 1(1), 22. –
Cover photo, 207, by Nom & Malc from Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.