Why Some People Can't Stand Cilantro

It’s hard to find someone who’s totally neutral about cilantro. People seem to either truly enjoy the stuff or just totally hate it. You can even find people bonding online about how much the herb — a common ingredient in many world cuisines — disgusts them.

People who like cilantro find it refreshing, vaguely citrus-y. Those who revile it often use say it tastes like soap or lotion or, conversely, something dirty and rotten, like garbage, stinky feet or bugs.

But what accounts for the aversion? (Cilantro is, after all, purported to be quite healthy to eat.) It’s a question that comes up again and again, and it was raised yet again, on Mashable, just the other week.

Here’s what research indicates:

A dislike for cilantro is more common among some ethnocultural groups than others. According to a 2012 study published in the journal Flavour, the aversion was determined to be most common among East Asians (21 percent), followed by Caucasians (17 percent), those of African descent (14 percent), South Asians (7 percent), Hispanics (4 percent) and Middle Eastern study subjects (3 percent).

The aversion may be genetic, rather than a matter of cultural practice or exposure. “Strong evidence suggests there’s a heritable component to the reactions that people have to cilantro, whether you’re a hater or a lover,” Charles Wysocki, a behavioral neuroscientist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, told the journal Nature, also in 2012. Wysocki’s research found that 80 percent of identical twins agreed in their response to the herb, whereas only about half of fraternal twins’ preferences were in sync.

It may come down, as so many things do, to smell. A genetic survey of 50,000 people conducted by the consumer genetics firm 23andMe a few years ago suggested that our responses to cilantro may be linked to OR6A2, an olfactory-receptor gene sensitive to aldehydes, including those found in cilantro.

Photo: iStock

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