I recently ran into a website and forum that was dedicated to hating cilantro, one of my most favorite herbs. I must admit I found it humorous, but I didn't realize there were so many people that hated cilantro, also known as coriander. Some people may be genetically predisposed to dislike the herb, but the numbers are much higher than previously thought.
Many of the healing properties of coriander can be attributed to its exceptional phytonutrient content. Coriander's volatile oil is rich in beneficial phytonutrients, flavonoids, plus active phenolic acid compounds.
Coriander has a health-supporting reputation that is high on the list of healing spices. In parts of Europe, it has traditionally been referred to as an "anti-diabetic" plant. In parts of India, it has traditionally been used for its anti-inflammatory properties. In the United States, coriander has recently been studied for its cholesterol-lowering effects.
Coriander seeds were found in one study on rats to have a significant hypolipidaemic effect, resulting in lowering of levels of total cholesterol and triglycerides, and increasing levels of high-density lipoprotein. This effect appeared to be caused by increasing synthesis of bile by the liver and increasing the breakdown of cholesterol into other compounds.
It helps stimulate secretion of insulin and lowers blood sugar. Coriander reduced the amount of damaged fats (lipid peroxides) in cell membranes. And when given to rats fed a high-fat, high-cholesterol diet, coriander actually increases levels of HDL (the "good" cholesterol). Research also suggests that the volatile oils found in the leaves of the coriander plant, commonly known as cilantro, may have antimicrobial properties.
For the first time, cilantro is on the list of foods with high pesticide levels. It's yet another herb which consumers should be purchasing organic. Testing by federal scientists found 33 unapproved pesticides on 44 percent of the cilantro samples tested.
Cilantro is an excellent source of minerals like potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, and magnesium. Fresh leaves should be washed thoroughly in water in order to remove the dirt and to get rid of any residual pesticides which can be harmful for health. It is best used while it is fresh as it retains its unique fragrance and aromatic flavour. Freshly chopped coriander leaves are a great addition to green salad.
Why Hate Cilantro?
The leaves have a different taste from the seeds, with citrus overtones. However, many people experience an unpleasant soapy taste or a rank smell and avoid the leaves. The different perceptions of the coriander leaves' taste is likely genetic, with some people having no response to the aromatic chemical that most find pleasant, while simultaneously being sensitive to certain offending compounds.
An entire website IHateCilantro.com is dedicated to those who despise the taste. One quote on the front page states "No normally functioning human being would ever in a lifetime consider cilantro edible." The website has over 4000 members with what appears to be hundreds of stories of people explaining why they hate cilantro.
Some people may be genetically predisposed to dislike cilantro, according to often-cited studies by Charles J. Wysocki of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. But cilantrophobe genetics remain little known and aren’t under systematic investigation. Meanwhile, history, chemistry and neurology have been adding some valuable pieces to the puzzle. Some experts estimate that in the United States alone, more than 20% of people may have sensitivity to cilantro.
A genetic survey of nearly 30,000 people pidentified two genetic variants linked to perception of coriander, the most common of which is in a gene involved in sensing smells. Two unpublished studies also link several other variants in genes involved in taste and smell to the preference
In 2011, Lilli Mauer, a nutrition scientist at the University of Toronto in Canada, identified variants in a different olfactory receptor gene and a bitter taste receptor gene linked to coriander preference among more than 500 people of European descent.
Helen Leach, an anthropologist at the University of Otago in New Zealand, has traced unflattering remarks about cilantro flavor and the bug etymology -- not endorsed by modern dictionaries -- back to English garden books and French farming books from around 1600, when medieval dishes had fallen out of fashion. She suggests that cilantro was disparaged as part of a general effort to define the new European table against the flavors of the old.
Modern cilantrophobes tend to describe the offending flavor as soapy rather than buggy. For other it remind them of hand lotion or creams. Each of these associations turns out to make good chemical sense.
Flavor chemists have found that cilantro aroma is created by a half-dozen or so substances, and most of these are modified fragments of fat molecules called aldehydes. The same or similar aldehydes are also found in soaps and lotions and the bug family of insects.
Soaps are made by fragmenting fat molecules with strongly alkaline lye or its equivalent, and aldehydes are a byproduct of this process, as they are when oxygen in the air attacks the fats and oils in cosmetics. And many bugs make strong-smelling, aldehyde-rich body fluids to attract or repel other creatures.
The published studies of cilantro aroma describe individual aldehydes as having both cilantrolike and soapy qualities. Several flavor chemists thave stated that they smell a soapy note in the whole herb as well, but still find its aroma fresh and pleasant. So the cilantro aldehydes are olfactory Jekyll-and-Hydes. Why is it only the evil, soapy side that shows up for cilantrophobes, and not the charming one?
Dr. Jay Gottfried, a neuroscientist at Northwestern University who studies how the brain perceives smells, stated that the great cilantro split probably reflects the primal importance of smell and taste to survival, and the brain’s constant updating of its database of experiences.
If the flavor doesn’t fit a familiar food experience, and instead fits into a pattern that involves chemical cleaning agents and dirt, or crawly insects, then the brain highlights the mismatch and the potential threat to our safety. We react strongly and throw the offending ingredient on the floor where it belongs.
Every new experience causes the brain to update and enlarge its set of patterns, and this can lead to a shift in how we perceive a food.
“I didn’t like cilantro to begin with,” he said. “But I love food, and I ate all kinds of things, and I kept encountering it. My brain must have developed new patterns for cilantro flavor from those experiences, which included pleasure from the other flavors and the sharing with friends and family. That’s how people in cilantro-eating countries experience it every day.”
“So I began to like cilantro,” he said. “It can still remind me of soap, but it’s not threatening anymore, so that association fades into the background, and I enjoy its other qualities. On the other hand, if I ate cilantro once and never willingly let it pass my lips again, there wouldn’t have been a chance to reshape that perception.”
Cilantro itself can be reshaped to make it easier to take. A Japanese study published suggested that crushing the leaves will give leaf enzymes the chance to gradually convert the aldehydes into other substances with no aroma.
About the author
Karen Foster is a holistic nutritionist, avid blogger, with five kids and an active lifestyle that keeps her in pursuit of the healthiest path towards a life of balance.