How to acquire a taste for cilantro?
February 27, 2009 12:18 AM   Subscribe

Ever hate cilantro, then acquire a taste for it?

I'm a cilantro hater. I keep reading about people who used to hate cilantro, then learned to tolerate or even love it. However, it's also been suggested (based on twin studies, and so on) that there's a genetic basis for hating it. Puzzling.

So... I'm in the tryouts for the other team. If you used to hate cilantro, but then acquired a taste for it, please tell me how you did it -- the more relevant details, the better. No rants, please; I can supply my own.

It would be so nice not to live in fear when I visit Thai and Mexican restaurants.
posted by rwhe to Food & Drink (43 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Try to remove as much of the stem as you can, from the fresh herb. The stem can lend cilantro a "soapy" taste that is what some people find off-putting.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:29 AM on February 27, 2009

I started out really liking cilantro very much, no matter how strong. And then over the course of about a year, I came to dislike it--I was eating a lot of "authentic" Mexican food. I can definitely tolerate it when it's well submerged in the rest of the flavor; but if I can taste it distinctly, I hate it.

So, pretty much the opposite of what you're asking. But, it does show variability in taste.
posted by Netzapper at 12:39 AM on February 27, 2009

I have always liked cilantro, but I think possibly buying some really good, bright, organic cilantro just to smell for a while would change the way you apprehend it.

Also, you don't mention Indian food. You could make some cilantro-heavy Aloo Gobi and try it in that, because it really plays differently with Indian food.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 1:27 AM on February 27, 2009

I used to hate cilantro. It was the only food I said I would not eat* (besides most offal, except bovine tongue - loved me some pressed tongue, oh and chicken livers, organic only, but I digress...). Cilantro gave me a headache and kind of made me want to curl up and hide under the dining chair.

Then I shared a house with a retired chef who loved making dishes with cilantro as a fresh herb and cooked. He began acclimatising me to it. A little fresh chopped in with the dressing on vietnamese salad. A little more in the thai curry. And so on. Then came The Night when I asked for more chopped cilantro on my prawn noodle salad. I realised that I not only came to understand the flavour of cilantro, but like it as well. So in answer to your question, in a word, acclimatisation. At your own pace.

Not being a big mexican food eater, I don't know how they use it in that cuisine. I'm used to its use in asian food. You may be being bombarded with the mex. Take it slower. Buy a bunch. Leave it in the fridge and smell it. Put it in a salad with mint and say, thai basil. Yum.

*Mmm, had the same deal with papaya. Thought it smelt like vomit. Now I adore it.
posted by Kerasia at 1:42 AM on February 27, 2009

I used to hate it. But then I was with a vegan for a few years and her and I ate lots of stuff I had never tried and some stuff I didn't like...cilantro one of them. Through the experience of learning to eat healthier and not depend on dairy and animals for "taste" my taste buds evolved and now I have learned to love cilantro and other interesting spices.
posted by talljamal at 3:03 AM on February 27, 2009

I've had no strong relationship with cilantro; as an ingredient among others I like it, but on its own (or in a green salad) I really don't.

On the other hand, my relationship with rocket (arugula) has been one that's waxed and waned. I'd never really enjoyed strongly-flavoured leaves, but after eating rocket in salads and on pizza in Italy I gradually developed a taste for it. I grew it in my garden last year and found myself eating it with every other meal. And then it went the other way: almost overnight I found I just didn't want to eat it any more. Even the smell became unpleasant.

Taste is an odd thing.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 3:07 AM on February 27, 2009

I couldn't eat it. It had this sickeningly permeating soapy/chemical flavor that filled my sinuses and head if I had a small amount. Horrific.

However, I had deviated septum surgery. Septum, turbinate reductions and smashing a conchibolosa(sp).

And now I can eat it. Milder, still a bit soapy, but it doesn't fill my very being with horrific flavor.. In most cases, it's actually pleasant too..

So nasal surgery might fix it.
posted by Lord_Pall at 3:09 AM on February 27, 2009

I think I have the 'cilantro gene' - I can definitely taste the soapy, astringent flavour in cilantro that so upsets some people. I didn't recoil from it quite as much as my mother does, but until a few years ago I would never have eaten cilantro/coriander on purpose.

Then I met my beloved, who comes from a South Indian family. I helped out in the kitchen and learnt that dishes like sambar or rasam aren't really 'done' until you've added the chopped coriander at the end. And honestly, coriander it makes meals like this come alive. Its presence makes every other flavour in the dish taste better.

My advice would be to try coriander in something simple, traditional and home-cooked. Not necessarily South Indian food, but something with a few generations of grandmothers behind it, all agreeing that that particular dish needs cilantro. It doesn't go with everything, and it's possible your local restaurants are putting it in places where it just shouldn't be.

Also, try to think of cilantro as you think of ingredients which taste awful until combined with others. Egg-whites? Gross. Meringues? Yum! Asafoetida? Yeugh. Dhal with a pinch of asafoetida? Yum! You don't have to like chomping raw cilantro from the garden. You just have to like it in places where it really belongs.
posted by embrangled at 3:18 AM on February 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

One of my bike riding buddies is a researcher at Monel Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia and here is her NPR interview on this very subject.
posted by fixedgear at 3:55 AM on February 27, 2009 [4 favorites]

I once heard the taste described as "it tastes like it's poisoning me" and that was definitely my reaction for a very long time. Then one day I made a salad with mango and cilantro and onion and lime (for my girlfriend) and I really liked it. And from then on, cilantro in other things has not been so bad, though I usually still prefer to avoid it.
posted by Nothing at 3:57 AM on February 27, 2009

strangely, cilantro from the far east tastes extremely soapy and astringent to me but not so for the indian or mexican variety, which tastes wholly different and yummy.
posted by sidr at 4:07 AM on February 27, 2009

wiki says: some people perceive an unpleasant "soapy" taste or a rank smell and avoid eating the leaves. Popular belief that this is genetically determined may arise from the known genetic variation in taste perception of the synthetic chemical phenylthiocarbamide;
posted by sidr at 4:29 AM on February 27, 2009

I mostly hate it, but gained a small tolerance on a trip to Thailand.

I think often in the west it is over-used or not balanced with sufficiently strong flavours.

I have also heard very fresh and *young* leaves don't have such a nasty taste.
posted by 8k at 4:36 AM on February 27, 2009

Blend with parsley, finely chopped.

Use in gazpacho or guacamole -- how can you hate those?

Never dried, always fresh.
posted by Jaltcoh at 4:40 AM on February 27, 2009

You might grow some for yourself. It's a cute plant with sweet little flowers.

Then, you would have the freshest, best cilantro to experiment with.

Bonus: you can leave it on the plant until you're ready to use it (buying it fresh from the grocery store, it goes off quickly). Double bonus: the flowers turn into seed pods which, if I'm not mistaken, are coriander. Fresh coriander! They're kind of good if you just chew them.
posted by amtho at 4:59 AM on February 27, 2009

I hate cilantro. I lived in Costa Rica for a while. It was utter hell. Everything was horrible. Costa Ricans are great people, they just don't know how to cook without gobs of cilantro. I think they even put cilantro in their desserts, but I digress.

I moved to China for a while. The food was great. Lo and behold, I come to find out that the Chinese are cilantro addicts too. Then my mother tells me that for my whole life the sabzi that she's served every time we ate persian food at home included fresh cilantro, and I've been eating that with no problem.

I went back to Costa Rica, this time thinking my days of gagging were done. But no, yuck. The food was the same. The cilantro taste was overpowering.

strangely, cilantro from the far east tastes extremely soapy and astringent to me but not so for the indian or mexican variety, which tastes wholly different and yummy.

So, I too gathered the impression that it was a regional thing. That cilantro really was different than it's nickname "chinese parsley." But, it's not. Sure the Chinese do have numerous variants, but the stuff they cook with is exactly the same as the stuff in my mom's garden fresh sabzi and mounded up on the gallo pinto they are serving up in Quesada Duran.

So what is the difference? My theory is it is the other ingredients and the level of cooking. The cilantro in CR is lightly cooked, added to the dish near the end, but not after cooking. In China it is either added after cooking, or is cooked down beyond recognition. In Iran it's the same, either raw in the sabzi side dish or cooked down into the dish. Also CR cooking involves more cumin. I've had that bad cilantro taste crop up in Indian and Thai curries, but only when it has had some heat and cumin is a major taste in the dish. Cumin can be an ingredient without bad cilantro reaction, but when cumin is the driving factor, it seems to magnify the yuck factor.

My theory is probably bs, but that's all I've got right now.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:08 AM on February 27, 2009

I went through a long period where I could eat a huge bunch of cilantro every week—I put it in everything. I chalk this up to a childhood with a cilantro loathing mother. It was never in the house, we never ate things with it at restaurants—it might well have been poison. Thus when I discovered it after this long deprivation, I went a little hogwild.

My ex, who I was dating during this cilantro romance, didn't like the taste but didn't find it intolerable, so I sometimes put it in our food. He not only tolerated but really liked this one—I don't know what to call it, cilantro dressing? salsa verde?—I made. Minced cilantro (lots!) and mint, lime juice, olive oil, a little cumin. I think there was a little garlic, too. We had it on pita with hummus and veggies and little feta cubes and pickled red onions. He said that the mint somehow cut everything he didn't like about the cilantro (that is, how it tasted like armpits) and let the good parts of its flavor shine through.

I think he liked it a little more after that.
posted by felix grundy at 5:38 AM on February 27, 2009

I used to think it tasted like soap. Then I moved to South Texas and grew to love it, maybe due to eating a lot more of it in really delicious food--fresh salsa and pico were probably the gateway. Now I could nibble on stems of it, an idea that would've appalled me ten years ago.
posted by paleography at 6:46 AM on February 27, 2009

I never had a strong aversion to it, but I never really liked it either. I think drinking Belgian white beers, which have a lot of coriander and orange peel flavor, made me appreciate it more.

My roommate used to despise cilantro until she moved to Texas and started eating it gradually in Mexican food. The dried cilantro and coriander in our house is still marked "Lauren poison," though.

Maybe start with something light, like lime-cilantro rice?
posted by lunalaguna at 7:09 AM on February 27, 2009

I did pretty much as Kerasia did--I couldn't stand to be near the stuff in the grocery store, but it was featured in so many of my favorite cuisines that I decided to see if I could acquire the taste. Salsa was the best place to start for me, especially warm salsas, for some reason. The other flavors over-powered the cilantro, but I could tell it was there. Then I systematically introduced more and more into my cooking. Now I can chew a leaf right off the plant.

But I've been able to do that with lots of foods. I grew up in the South, with lots of rich but bland food. I didn't see a real clove of garlic until I moved out on my own, so there were lots of things that I had simply never encountered, some of which repulsed me at first, but I then grew to love--fish sauce, lime pickle, lemon grass, scotch. Now my world is filled with fascinating flavors of all types. It's a better world.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:18 AM on February 27, 2009

I had a strong aversion to it. Then I didn't eat if for years. Then I did. And the aversion was gone, replaced by love.
posted by rainbaby at 7:39 AM on February 27, 2009

Chalk up another hater turned lover. I used to hate when people insisted on putting fresh cilatro in salsa. Now, I can't get enough. I think part of it may be context. I started loving cilantro after learning how to cook various Indian recipes. I love it in Indian food and hate it in Mexican food.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 7:48 AM on February 27, 2009

Blazecock Pileon has it: a lot of the flavor's in the stems, so start by eating just the leaves. That's what I did, not really on purpose, and now I can't get enough of the stuff, stems and all.
posted by clavicle at 7:52 AM on February 27, 2009

I had a strong aversion to it. Then I didn't eat if for years. Then I did. And the aversion was gone, replaced by love.
posted by rainbaby at 7:39 AM

Same for me. I had some salsa once that had cilantro in it, having never tried the herb before. I though they had put soap in the salsa.

Years later, I tried it again and it was so delicious!
posted by orme at 7:56 AM on February 27, 2009

I'm another hater turned lover. I couldn't stand the stuff, and then I started going to this Venezuelan restaurant that served their dishes with a cilantro cream sauce similar to this. I couldn't get enough of that sauce and soon found that I had a sudden love of cilantro in general. Try making that sauce or something like it and eating it on tacos...mmmmm, pork tacos....
posted by thejanna at 8:00 AM on February 27, 2009

Wow, I had no idea so many people hated cilantro. I love the stuff.

As a slight derail, how do you cilantro-haters feel about the seeds of the same plant (usually known as coriander)? I'm curious whether antipathy for the two seasonings generally goes together or not.
posted by musicinmybrain at 8:17 AM on February 27, 2009

I vehemently hated cilantro for years. Then eventually/finally decided I really liked it. I have no idea why, it just happened. I am no 'help' whatsoever.
posted by wrok at 8:35 AM on February 27, 2009

Hated the taste and smell for years and years, and then when I was maybe 25, I suddenly accepted it. Now I love it to excess.

Perhaps as a genetic-other-weird-food-related variable, I also cannot smell asparagus pee. At all. People tell me this is odd, although I have met a few others (mostly female) who also cannot smell it.
posted by hybridvigor at 8:53 AM on February 27, 2009

I've found that while I don't like cilantro straight up, or a lot of it, that it's quite nice when used in moderation with other flavors. If you do it right in an indian curry or a mexican salsa, it's balanced well with the other flavors. Add a bit too much, and your dish is a train wreck.

So, try having it a little bit at a time with some other stuff. See if that works.
posted by Citrus at 9:06 AM on February 27, 2009

I'm pretty sure the only way you find out if you can acquire a taste for anything is to keep trying it. I was very iffy about cilantro the first time I ate it and associated it. I've come to love it. Freshness and trimming stems really do moderate the more soapy and bitter flavor it can have. It will be easier to experiment if you cook at home (then you can add a little to part of a dish but not ruin the whole thing for yourself if you hate it) or make your cilantro-loving friends order things when you're out at restaurants and then have a little of theirs. If you just don't take to it, you know, you don't have to eat everything in this world.
posted by nanojath at 9:20 AM on February 27, 2009

Generally the thing to do is pair small amounts of cilantro with things that a) complement it, and b) you find delicious. Then you can gradually increase the amount of cilantro.

As a slight derail, how do you cilantro-haters feel about the seeds of the same plant (usually known as coriander)? I'm curious whether antipathy for the two seasonings generally goes together or not.

I can't (yet) enjoy cilantro, though I'm gradually trying to eat more since it's a part of so many cuisines I love. I'm finally to the point where the presence of a tiny amount of cilantro no longer ruins whatever I'm eating, which is a relief. Like other people, I'm using Mexican and Indian food to ratchet up the amount I eat.

Coriander, though, has always been delicious to me. For whatever one anecdote is worth.
posted by amery at 10:02 AM on February 27, 2009

Response by poster: Wow, woke up to a huge number of responses to collate. Thanks to everyone so far! I'm beginning to sketch out a strategy.

Looking forward to further suggestions.
posted by rwhe at 10:33 AM on February 27, 2009

This is why I find Ask MeFi so fascinating. The answer from me is "Yes!" I used to hate cilantro and now I love it. The reason may not help you, though. I grew up in L.A. and hated cilantro while I lived there. But when I moved away the herb reminded me of California and suddenly I loved it for that reason. The taste evoked a sense of the place I was missing.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 10:34 AM on February 27, 2009

My sister, my dad, and I all hate cilantro. None of us can eat it. My sister is particularly sensitive to it, and cannot eat food that has been cooked with or even near cilantro. We have the same aversion to parsley. I can actually tolerate cilantro somewhat now that I am older, but I still cannot eat parsley, and even the smell of parsley makes me crazy. So, I do think genetics play a role.

And let me just say - to all of you out there who are of the opinion that "parsley doesn't have a taste, so there's nothing to hate" - just spend a day in our shoes!!!
posted by junipero at 10:49 AM on February 27, 2009

I never liked it growing up; it had the same soapy taste to me that other people report. Then I discovered the joys of Thai green curry, specifically the homemade version my husband makes. (Interestingly, this is also the dish that made me start liking coconut.) Now I can't get enough of it.

I've been reading the Shangri-La Diet book, and in it the author specifically mentions cilantro. He says that a lot of people start out hating it and come to love it. His explanation is that the body learns to "like" flavours that are associated with calories. So if you pair the cilantro with rich sources of calories - like creamy curries and such - you're much more likely to form a positive flavor-calorie association than you are if you just keep tasting the leaves on their own. It's an interesting theory.
posted by web-goddess at 1:26 PM on February 27, 2009

I used to find cilantro intolerably dusty tasting, but grew to love it at about age 40 when I suddenly went crazy for Tom Kha and couldn't get enough of it. Now I'm a convert. I think there's many foods where all it takes to learn to like them is to try them 5-10 times over a relatively short period, e.g., once a day for a week. You begin to appreciate them.
posted by carmicha at 1:50 PM on February 27, 2009

It's my understanding that you either like cilantro or you don't; it has to do with the chemical compounds and how your body chemistry reacts to it. Have you ever been to ? It's hilarious.

You can train yourself to overcome the bad taste you experience, just as people train themselves to tolerate the bitterness of beer in order to be accepted socially by their peers.

Personally I love cilantro so much I could bury my face in it, breathe in deeply, and be in ecstasy!
posted by Piscean at 2:08 PM on February 27, 2009

Eat anything 10 times without getting sick, and your hindbrain will adjust. Basically, you need to train your autonomic nervous system into recognizing something as food.

Note also that your brain can tell the difference between smells that arrive through the front of the nose and up the back of the throat, so it won't work if you just sniff the food 10 times. As I tell my kids, you have to give it an honest try: chew up a reasonable sized piece of the food thoroughly and swallow it. Avoid gagging. And you have to give your brain time to absorb the non-sick information, so wait at least a day between each sample.
posted by Araucaria at 2:44 PM on February 27, 2009

It's my understanding that you either like cilantro or you don't; it has to do with the chemical compounds and how your body chemistry reacts to it. Have you ever been to ? It's hilarious.

I really don't think so. It's always tasted tasted the same for me, soapy and astringent. And yet I went from being like you (face burying love) to despising it in all but the most subdued functions.

I do think there's a genetic effect in terms of tasting the soapiness. But, I don't think that preference is genetic.

(Also, beer tastes delicious. It's the bitterness that I crave. So tasty.)
posted by Netzapper at 3:15 PM on February 27, 2009

When I was young, I liked cilantro, then at some point, when I was about 21 I stopped liking it. It just started tasting bad. Now I'm at the point where I don't particularly care for it, but don't usually despise it.

Time, I guess, has worked for tempering my cilantro hate.
posted by wierdo at 3:30 PM on February 27, 2009

I cannot imagine ever getting over my aversion to cilantro. My reaction is a innate self-preservation reaction, it tastes profoundly awful as though it is something toxic. Horseradish can also taste, well, toxic to me but usually only in a relatively large dose.

I like very many things but hose are two that can't make it.
posted by bz at 4:17 PM on February 27, 2009

Try it on different foods. I found out that I hated it because it was ALWAYS in the wrong foods. Find out different cultures that use it...try their food. *might* love it. I did...but there's no guarantee.

Good luck, and make sure you chew well.
posted by hal_c_on at 9:51 PM on February 27, 2009

It still tastes like crushed beetles.
posted by polyglot at 12:22 AM on February 28, 2009

« Older What's a CT scan like?   |   Cat pee boots, yuck Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.