And Why It’s Still OK To Be Friends With Them. (It’s Not Their Fault.)
Cilantro adds fresh, slightly citrusy, herbaceous flavor to dishes such as heady curries and soups, salsas, and some stir-fries. Despite its varied potential in dishes, cilantro is also quite a divisive food. That’s because, for some people, cilantro tastes like soap.
That said, only a small percentage of the global population experiences this cilantro-soap taste correlation: 23andMe found that only about 13% of the general population thinks cilantro tastes like soap. But also, the cilantro aversion varies largely between cultures and geographical locations. Around 21% of the East Asian population thinks cilantro tastes like soap, according to one study’s estimation. The same study also found that Middle Eastern and Hispanic populations have the least cilantro-averse populations, which perhaps explains why cilantro is widely used in Middle Eastern and Hispanic dishes.
Researchers at 23andMe, the biotech company behind the popular ancestry and DNA kits, surveyed almost 30,000 people about their cilantro taste preferences. They found that those who thought cilantro tastes like soap shared a common smell-receptor gene cluster called OR6A2. This gene cluster picks up the scent of aldehyde chemicals, which are in cilantro leaves. Variations of aldehyde compounds are also in almonds, cinnamon, and vanilla beans. Interestingly, aldehydes are also in perfumes and are a byproduct of the soap-making process.
“There are genetic and physical differences among people…[but also] the primary chemical that makes [cilantro] taste like cilantro is citronellol, which is also the number one fragrance in Ivory soap,” Gail Vance Civille, president and owner of Sensory Spectrum, told TODAY.
Whether you love using the herb to add freshness to dishes, or it’s akin to licking a bar of soap, know this: your genes are what’s dictating your cilantro preference.