If you hate coriander, you might not be able to blame genetics

Even the sight of these dewy coriander leaves makes me shudder. Source: Flickr

As I was basking in the sun, surrounded by friends, chomping down on my BBQ pork roll, my mood was instantly shattered. As the strong taste of soap flooded my mouth I fought back the tears forming in my eyes. I had forgotten to ask the staff at the Vietnamese shop down the road to hold the coriander. Rookie mistake.

I’ve always been considered a “picky eater”, but as I’ve grown my tastes have changed and I enjoy a lot more foods now than what I used to. But one taste I’ve never grown to like is coriander. In fact, it has what I would consider to be the most offensive flavour I’ve ever tasted.

You may have heard it all before – after all, up to 21% of people hate the herb. When headlines mention “coriander dislike linked to genetics”, I can’t help but have a flick through the article. But I wanted to look at the science for myself.

Can I really blame my hatred of coriander on genetics? Why do enough people hate coriander that there is an entire website devoted to it?

Here’s what I found out:

Scent-sory overload 

I bet you’ve tried holding your noise when choking down some particularly yucky food. Well, apparently this technique has some merit. This study found that odour has a significant influence on the flavours we taste.

This theory could explain why so many people (including me) think coriander tastes like soap. The herb contains aldehydes, a molecule also found in soaps. This chemical similarity could be causing the smell of coriander to remind some people of soap.

So, there you have it. I’m not weird for thinking this, you’re weird if you don’t think this – its science.

Except, not everyone experiences the taste of soap when eating coriander. So why do some people and not others?

It’s all in the genetics

This is where the genetic factor comes into play. Studies have found that there is a genetic variant near olfactory receptor genes in some people. Or, in plain English, some people have a gene which changes the way they detect certain odours. Basically, the gene makes these receptors better at detecting the aldehydes in coriander, which makes it smell and taste more like soap.

A study involving twins also found that the like or dislike of coriander was related to three gene variants, which could explain individual responses to coriander.

So, it’s not my fault – I’m genetically predisposed to hate coriander.

Well, maybe. Although numerous headlines suggest this is the case, both studies linked above admit their findings only “partially explain” why some people hate coriander and others love it.

The more you eat it, the more you like it 

So, while genetic differences might be partly responsible, ethnicity also seems to play a role. A Canadian study found that opinions on the taste of coriander varied across different ethnocultural groups living in Canada.

The results found that subjects of Middle Eastern, Hispanic and South Asian decent recorded the lowest percentage of coriander dislike (3-7%). Unsurprisingly, coriander is a popular element of these styles of cuisine. So, it appears that if you’re more exposed to coriander, you’re more likely to like it.

To be honest, it’s probably just one of those things science can’t explain. Or maybe it’s even something science doesn’t need to explain. After all, it’s okay for people to have different preferences when it comes to food. And if you really want to learn to like it, apparently coriander pesto is the best way to introduce it to your palate.

Personally, I’d be happy never seeing the stuff again.

2 Responses to “If you hate coriander, you might not be able to blame genetics”

  1. Kai Yee, Chan says:

    It is so true. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Will McDonald says:

    This is really well written and well researched! I had completely accepted that I was among the privileged ones who like coriander – interesting to see where it stems from.