Do you hate or like Cilantro? Turns out, it's genetic. Science Teachers Take Note!

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A number of lines of evidence have converged on the apparent fact that how you feel about Cilantro is a relatively simple genetic system. That Cilantro hatred is inherited genetically and not culturally has long been suspected, but now it is becoming clear enough that this could be a new module in the Science Classroom where kids are forced to taste it and record their level of disgust. It’s all written up here, in Nature.

In hopes of identifying the genetic basis for these traits, researchers led by Nicholas Eriksson at the consumer genetics firm 23andMe, based in Mountain View, California, asked customers whether coriander tasted like soap and whether or not they liked the herb. The researchers identified two common genetic variants linked to people’s “soap” perceptions. A follow-up study in a separate sub-set of customers confirmed the associations.

The strongest-linked variant lies within a cluster of olfactory-receptor genes, which influence sense of smell. One of those genes, OR6A2, encodes a receptor that is highly sensitive to aldehyde chemicals, which contribute to the flavour of coriander. This makes OR6A2 “a compelling candidate gene for the detection of the odours that give it its divisive flavour”, the researchers write.

Go to the source to get all the info. See also the I Hate Cilantro site.

Personally, I simultaneously think it tastes like soap and I like it.

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13 thoughts on “Do you hate or like Cilantro? Turns out, it's genetic. Science Teachers Take Note!

  1. Hate or love? How about neither. I learned about a year ago that I can neither taste nor smell cilantro at all. About the most I get is a faintly “green” smell if I get really close, but that’s it. I didn’t catch it in the article or the source, but is this possibly another variant of the gene?

  2. Just the smell of the leaves makes me ill,it triggers an almost instantaneous headache yet coriander seed has no effect except to make food taste good.

  3. There’s a plant native to the west coast of North America, Sanicula graveolens, also a member of the parsley family, that to me smells and tastes exactly like cilantro (which I like). I wonder how cilantro-haters would react to it?

  4. I have never in my life come across anyone who doesn’t like coriander leaf. I was unaware there was such strength of feeling on the matter. I have always taken it for granted that it was one of the best herbs in existence. Clearly i’ve never encountered any of the 12% with this unfortunate genetic deformity, and my heart goes out to them all.

  5. I’m a hater. Sometimes I can’t identify the taste in cooked food – but I do push it around the plate because it makes food taste off to me. When I ask family to check, they scornfully tell me it’s coriander. Couldn’t I tell?

    Have they checked for the other caraway related tastes. I also loathe fenugreek, cumin, caraway, dill, tarragon along with a posse of others. And I can’t abide coriander or curry leaf plants in the garden. It’s not so bad now, but when I was younger most of these were literally nauseating. (My mother and sister have the same problem, but my children haven’t inherited it.)

    But it’s true about the seeds. I don’t mind pickling mixes that contain coriander or dill seeds.

  6. Greg –

    Not to be a wet blanket (Come to think of it, that may be a fair description of the smell of cilantro…or maybe more like a wet dog. But I love it anyway.) the Nature headline and yours are both at odds with the researchers’ own take on the data:

    “Eriksson and his team calculate that less than 10% of coriander preference is due to common genetic variants. ‘It is possible that the heritability of cilantro preference is just rather low,’ they say.”

    Their less-than-impressive findings:

    “…nearly half of Europeans have two copies of the ‘soapy’ variant, and of those, 15.3% said coriander tasted of soap. For comparison, 13% of Europeans had no copies of this variant, and in this group, only 11.5% of them reported the soapy taste.”

  7. Stan, nothing is at odds at all. People do often take the phrase “It’s genetic” to mean that a gene codes for the behavior or trait and there is a straight line perfect determinism. That, however, is very rare. People just get it wrong most of the time.

    I think this could be a great example of a trait with a genetic link for use in classrooms, for instance, for the reason that (assuming the research is verified) there is a lot that happens between the alleles and the food preference. This is a very realistic example that can be experimented with in a classroom more or less safely.

    There are not too many traits where genetic variance produces well defined direct outcomes.

  8. For those who say cilantro and coriander are different….WRONG it is the same thing but different names are used depending on where you live. It is exactly the same stuff and yes, it’s DISGUSTING!!!!

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