This post, originally published on April 25, 2009, although relatively short (for me, at least) and relatively devoid of new information, was a huge hit. It got lots of traffic, many comments, many incoming links, and the discussion spread around online social networks and lasted for quite a while. All it shows, really, is how passionate people are about their food....
If you think that political or religious debates can get nasty, you haven't seen anything until you go online and see how much hate exists between people who love cilantro and those who hate cilantro. What horrible words they use to describe each other!!!!
Last weekend, I asked why is this and searched Twitter and FriendFeed for discussions, as well Wikipedia and Google Scholar for information about it.
First - cilantro is the US name for the plant that is called coriander in the rest of the world. In the USA, only the seed is called coriander, and the rest of the plant is cilantro.
Second - there are definitely two populations of people: one (larger) group thinks that it is the best taste ever, while the other group thinks it is awful. The latter group is not simply incapable of tasting cilantro - they can taste it in minuscule quantities hidden in food and describe it as "dirty dish-soap water taste". People who cannot stand cilantro leaf are perfectly OK with eating the coriander seed.
So, it is something in the leaf that makes the difference.
Third - anecdotal information from scouring the Web suggests ("me and my Dad hate it...") that the type of response to cilantro is inherited. It is also not experiental (those who hate it, hated it when they were kids, those who love it sometimes first tried it when they were already old and loved it at first try, and the response does not change with age, amount, kind of food preparation, etc).
Fourth - there is no scientific literature that I could find on the genetics of this. Is the difference at the level of the gustatory (or olfactory) receptors, or at higher-level processing centers in the brain?
Fifth - there is one paper that shows that the type of response to cilantro taste has nothing to do with the individual being a supertaster or not.
Sixth - There are a few older papers that identified chemical compounds in the leaves of cilantro, and a few about the allergy to cilantro, but no final identification of the compound that makes the difference in taste to the two groups.
So, does anyone else know more about this? Let us know in the comments.
In the meantime, be nice to people who are not your cilantro-type - they cannot help it.
Image: Wikimedia Commons