If I would say to you, “Would you like some cilantro?” would you recoil in disgust or say, “Yes, please”? Turns out, your preference (or not) for cilantro may lie within your genetics.
A small percentage of the population thinks that cilantro, the herb that's yummy in Mexican pico de gallo and Vietnamese pho alike, tastes like soap. The culprit? A simple gene variation. If your olfactory-receptor genes have this variation, your taste buds focus on the aldehydes in cilantro, otherwise known as a soapy flavor, instead of the slightly limey-bright green flavor the rest of us taste.
In countries where cilantro is more commonly used in cooking, like those in Central America and South Asia, this gene variation is pretty rare, while up to 20 percent of the population in East Asia thinks cilantro tastes like licking a bar of Lever 2000. It leads us to wonder: Is this truly nature vs. nurture, or is it maybe a bit of both?
If you were born this way, all is not lost, apparently. Scientists think you can build up a preference to cilantro. Crushing the leaves, like you would in a pesto, makes the herb more mild and is a good way to build your tolerance so you can get on our level and join us at the cilantro party.
The next time you get a taste of salsa that reminds you of swallowing some bubble bath, just remember that this is a challenge you can overcome, and we believe in you. Worst case scenario, just pass it to your left, because odds are there is someone else around who does not partake in your soapy sensibilities.