A bag of hair, with onions inside, set on fire.
I’ve always been a picky eater; carrots, garlic, papaya, and so much more. I don’t even like chocolates that much. Yep, I said chocolates, go ahead, judge me. You won’t be the first.
However, one of my biggest issues is with the evilest herb ever, coriander (or cilantro).
Thankfully, I’m not alone.
Most of the people sharing this passionate dislike for the evil herb, say that they taste soapiness while munching on it. Other commonly experienced tastes include, dirt, metal, bug repellents. iHateCilantro (an online community for people who love to hate on cilantro) provides a very comprehensive list of various tastes people experience, such as “rotten kimchi”, “worn out burnt rubber” and my favourite,” a bag of hair with onions inside set on fire.”
When I accidently eat coriander. Credit: GIPHY
Soapiness and Sadness
Our sense of smell considerably influences the flavours we taste. It is because of this, that we hold our nose while trying to gulp down some not-so-yummy food, or even medicines.
This explains why some people experience the soapy flavour while munching on the evil herb. It is because of the presence of aldehydes in it. Aldehydes are chemical compounds that are, not so surprisingly, a major component of detergents and soaps.
What’s more, a main part of the composition of the oils in the evil herb is Linalool, usually found in scented plants, perfumed cleaning agents and insecticides.
Back home in India, I’d never met someone who felt similarly about this awful herb. If anything, everyone is absolutely obsessed with it as it is extremely popular in Asian cuisines. (yay for me!)
It’s been a constant struggle for me, especially with my family. They just refused to believe it was a real thing. “Oh, it has no flavour beta*, it is just used for garnishing, it makes the dish look pretty.” Nuh-uh, I’m sorry, I disagree. It is literally the devil on that plate of heavenly biryani*.
Turns out, the reason I never came across anyone who shared my hatred of the evil herb is because there only a 3% of South Asian population who is prone to sharing my feelings. Why, you ask?
More specifically, genetics.
Research has informed that our noses have small receptors, called the olfactory receptors that help us in identification of certain smells. The sense of smell varies greatly among people due to natural variations in these receptors. These olfactory receptors have hundreds of various functional genes. Each set of genes work by producing certain receptors which bind to specific chemicals thereby enabling recognition of odorants and/or tastants.
One particular set of olfactory genes is responsible for how we perceive the smell of coriander. The normal version of the gene, associates coriander with citrusy and fruity fragrance. However, whenever there is a variation or change in these genes, they encode for a modified receptor which is highly sensitive to aldehydes – ergo, soapiness.
A study reported 14-21% of East Asian, African and Caucasian origin to share this passionate dislike, whereas the same can only be said for 3-7% of people of South Asians, Hispanic and Middle eastern origin. This information has prompted the theory that the latter has such small numbers due to continuous exposure with the evil herb, and therefore, maybe repeated exposure to it may actually allow you to warm up to it – especially if you start with coriander pesto.
I, however, will pass on that traumatic offer and continue to avoid it, like I have for the past 23 years. Thank you very much.
*Beta: A Hindi word used to address a child.
*Biryani: an Indian dish made with fragrant seasoned rice with meat.