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Cilantro Wars

June 16, 2013

Most people have varied food preferences, and even particular foods that they seriously dislike. In my experience, however, no food can elicit a response from someone quite like cilantro can. There are certain people out there that would rather die than suffer through a burrito with the leafy goodness of cilantro inside (example: Julia Child!). The most often complaints are that it tastes like soap, urine, or dirt. In fact, there’s an entire community for these tormented folks, and their website is elegantly named I Hate Cilantro. They even have a whole section of Haiku’s, which is funny enough to get them props in my book.

“Fresh and bright, you say?
How about gargling with
Feces in your mouth?”
(imagery at it’s finest lol)

Interestingly, these cilatro haters do have some shaky genetic ground to stand on. Scientists have thought for awhile now that the aversion might have a heritable component based on its common frequency in certain cultures and populations. A survey of 30,000 people was able to suggest a possible relationship between a perceived “soapy” flavor and the gene OR6A2. The gene name stands for “olfactory receptor 6A2,” and it’s a protein that perceives odorants by MAGIC (and also cell signaling).  This particular receptor is really sensitive to aldehydes, which are apparently part of what gives cilantro it’s scent. There are different “variants” of this gene in the population, so if you have two copies of the soapy variant it’s more likely that you’ll think cilantro is icky. Also, the rest of the world will think YOU’RE icky.



But just FYI – genetics aren’t the final word on the cilantro debate. Scientists think only about 10% of the preference has to do with your DNA. So there’s a good possibility that you’re just weird. 🙂


From → Biology

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