Despite its popularity in cuisines from South America to east Asia to southern Europe, cilantro has some committed opponents. Many people claim it has a soapy or metallic taste and wondered for years how cilantro-lovers could palate the stuff. The herb’s fans, for their part, couldn’t understand the strong antipathy some people have to cilantro’s unique flavor that is at once pungent and refreshing. A few years ago, a little clarity was brought to the cilantro debates, when scientists discovered a genetic basis to people’s experience of cilantro. It seemed that some people were just biologically disposed to find the herb unappealing. It was a simple answer to a vexing culinary debate. Alas, things are rarely that simple.
According to two new studies, the link between the cilantro-hate and genetics is more nuanced than it seemed at first. As it turns out, many people who have the gene that enhances the herb’s soapy scent are also fans of the herb, while many cilantro-haters lack the gene. What this suggests is that attitudes toward cilantro are shaped in part by culture and personal taste and can change over time. While it muddies the story of the cilantro wars, it also brings hope for peace one day, as even the most strident cilantro opponent can become a fan.
Image: Thamizhpparithi Maari
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