When it comes to fresh cilantro, also known as coriander, it seems there is no grey area: it’s either love or hate. If you were raised in a Latino or Asian household, you probably pile the unassuming green herb that looks like parsley onto just about anything. If you weren’t raised on cilantro, however, it’s likely you avoid it because it “smells like soap” or “tastes like crushed bugs” as its detractors have said about it.
According to The Oxford Companion to Food the word coriander is said to derive from the Greek word for “bedbug,” since its aroma was compared to the smell of bug-infested bedclothes by Europeans hundreds of years ago. Julia Childs, the renowned chef, once proclaimed that cilantro tasted like death: “I would pick it out if I saw it and throw it on the floor,” she said. And if Julia were alive today, it’s likely she would have voiced her strong feelings about the herb on the website, I Hate Cilantro.com as well. But for all the haters there are also the lovers; there are several cilantro love groups, on Facebook for instance.
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So is it our cultural practices and exposure to this divisive herb that makes us a fan or not? Studies demonstrate that DNA shapes our opinion of cilantro. As Huff Post reports, SciShow’s Hank Green explained that scientists were able to pin down most cilantro haters as “people with a shared group of olfactory-receptor genes, called OR6A2, that pick up on the smell of aldehyde chemicals. Aldehyde chemicals are found in both cilantro and soap.”
But cilantrophobes are not hopeless. Supposedly if you have several positive experiences eating cilantro with loved ones or on a memorable vacation for example, your brain begins to associate it with those good memories while pushing your innate dislike for it into the background. If you have a divided cilantro-opining household, try making fresh cilantro pesto at home since the act of crushing the leaves helps neutralize the flavor. Then use plenty of parmesan cheese to camouflage the flavor and watch those two opposing camps dig in.