Cilantro: Citrus or Soap?

If you think cilantro is not the delicious tangy herb everyone says it is, there may be more to your dislike than what meets the eye.


Claire Lawrence, Reporter

There is not one food which everyone adores. Just about every person has some foods they dislike. For example, some people hate spicy peppers while others despise squash. It’s just how people’s personal tastes work. However, scientists were intrigued when so many people had a strong disgust for cilantro (also known as coriander) with all of them comparing it to the same household item. Turns out, if you think cilantro tastes like soap, there may be more to your revolt than a simple dislike of the food.

Cilantro is usually used in Hispanic and Mexican food to add a pop of flavor and brightness to the meal, but many cultures have adapted it to their own dishes and flavor profiles. To the normal person, cilantro tastes fresh and citrus-like, with a herby aftertaste. Cilantro lover put heaps in guacamole, salsa, tacos, and almost all other food that needs a bit of a complex flavor profile. The herb is a fan favorite and loved or tolerated by almost 90% of the world, what’s not to love?

Recently many people have been on an uprise about cilantro, claiming it tastes like a soapy bubble bath, and not in a good way. There is even a whole website that is dedicated to hating cilantro. You can buy shirts, share your story of hating cilantro, or even write a haiku! Scientists have been investigating this issue for a while now because it seems strange that so many people don’t only not like it, but they all similarly claim that it tastes like the same unpleasant flavor. Surveys of many different people and ethnicities say that as much as 10% of the population thinks cilantro tastes like soap. This is different than the regular run-of-the-mill dislike of the common flavor, this is something strange and taste altering.

Strangely enough, the hate of cilantro mainly doesn’t depend on personal tastes, it runs in genetics. According to intense research, people who strongly hate the herb were born with a genetic variant known as a single-nucleotide polymorphism (or SNP for short). Basically, in our body, there are genes that alert our brain to specific senses or stimuli. If you have this specific SNP, a gene or receptor smells the distinct herb and instead of conveying the message to your brain: “Oh hey! That’s cilantro! Cool!” it says “I don’t know what that is but it’s dangerous and I can’t eat it!” When this message is sent to your brain, your brain makes your mind and body not want to eat it by giving it a disgusting -or soapy- taste.

Although that long explanation is hard to understand when simplified, all that you need to know is that if you think cilantro tastes gross and like soap, it’s not you just being a picky eater like your parents say. It’s an actual genetic “issue” and unless you like the taste of soap, there is nothing you can do about it.