Cilantro – that lovely herb that gives a refreshing fragrant to our sauces and stews. But for some people, this rather wonderful plant can ruin an entire meal, making their soup taste like soap. Yeap, you’ve read that right; for 4 to 14% of the people, cilantro tastes like soap.
I know what you think: it’s just people being picky, right? Well, actually it’s not. Science has finally shed light on this cilantro-hater fanaticism and it all has to do with genes.
Researchers at the genetics firm 23andMe analyzed the genomes of 30,000 people while each subject was asked on how they thought cilantro tasted like. Those who claimed that cilantro tastes like soap, had similarities in smell receptors that – surprise, surprise – are responsible for detecting the smell of soap. (the article continues after the ad)
These subjects tended to share one particular gene which picks up the scent of various aldehyde chemicals. As scishow explains:
Aldehydes are organic molecules that contain an aldehyde group – a carbon bonded to a hydrogen and double bonded to oxygen. There’s a bunch of different aldehydes that have really distinctive smells, there’s vanillin which smells like vanilla, and cinnamaldehyde which is what gives cinnamon its smell. There’s more than one aldehyde responsible for cilantro’s distinctive smell, and they also happen to be a bi-product of soap-making. Upon further study, researchers found that almost half of Europeans have 2 copies of the gene that codes for those aldehyde receptors, but only about 15% of European subjects said that the herb tasted like soap. By comparison, 11.5% of people who had no copies of that version of the gene also said that cilantro was soapy.
But other genes are contributing as well. The research found that there are at least 3 more genes that are involved in this cilantro mystery. So yes, genetics plays a major role in whether you like cilantro or not. But some specifics still need to be worked out before you can take a doctor’s note to lunch tomorrow.