Why don't I like cilantro?
April 14, 2004 3:01 PM   Subscribe

I can't eat anything cilantro has touched, even if it's only a few flakes. In contrast, my friends' reactions to it are extremely positive, and they've described its taste as "bright" and "fresh," and it's commonly included in dishes in my area. I don't think it's just a food preference; I'm a big kid and will eat things I do not enjoy if they're given to me or if I'm hungry. The difference with cilantro is that it makes any food, no matter how much I like it, taste like it's been poisoned, and no amount of willpower can overcome that. Does anybody else find cilantro inedible, or know why it would cause such a strong reaction?
posted by Hypharse to Food & Drink (67 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
All I can offer is that you're not the first person I've known who reports this. I use it as a mere seasoning, but it would appear that some people have an extraordinary sensitivity to it.
posted by scarabic at 3:04 PM on April 14, 2004

My reaction isn't as strong as yours, but I don't like cilantro either. I can still tolerate foods that have a little bit of cilantro in them, but very much and I distinctly don't like it. It is rather odd for me, too, because I'm not at all a picky eater, and there are very few flavors that I don't like. But cilantro is one of them.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:09 PM on April 14, 2004

I used to have an extremely strong reaction to it, too. I couldn't even smell it without gagging.

Then they started putting it in just about everything, and I've found that I was able to build up a tolerance to it. Took a couple of years, though.
posted by interrobang at 3:13 PM on April 14, 2004

Maybe you're allergic to it?
posted by falconred at 3:18 PM on April 14, 2004

I love cilantro (I think it's just really tangy and zingy and yummy), but everyone I know who hates it says that it tastes like soap to them. I wonder if it's some kind of tastebud receptor thing?
posted by scody at 3:18 PM on April 14, 2004

Do (any of) you have a similar reaction to coriander (cilantro seeds), or just the fresh aerial portion of the plant? I find cilantro in excessive amounts to taste like soap, but still edible. Too much fresh tarragon, however, I just can't eat.
posted by obloquy at 3:18 PM on April 14, 2004

I used to have an extremely strong reaction to it, too. I couldn't even smell it without gagging.

Then they started putting it in just about everything, and I've found that I was able to build up a tolerance to it. Took a couple of years, though.

Same thing here. In college if it touched my mouth, my taste would go away and parts of my mouth would swell up. The smell of it in cooking would drive me out of a house.

Then for some reason 5-10 years later the problem was gone. Now I can eat a little here and there and it's fine. The smell still kind of gets to me but I can eat it fine now.
posted by mathowie at 3:26 PM on April 14, 2004

I can understand, in a vague way, why people might find cilantro to be soapy--I like it, though. My big turnoff is broccoli: the smell of it cooking makes me gag. Cooked cauliflower too (though I like it raw). I mentioned this to a friend, and she suggested that I might be hypersensitive to sulfur (? I think that was it), which is concentrated in those foods and some others that I also don't like.

So it might be that you have an unusual sensitivity to something the rest of us are missing out on. When we're young, our tastebuds are much more sensitive to bitter and sour flavors, which is at least part of the reason that kids have such sweet tooths. Might be something like that.
posted by adamrice at 3:28 PM on April 14, 2004

My cousin also hates cilantro, and reports the same soap taste. I thought that maybe he'd just been dropped on his head as a child, but I guess it's not that uncommon. It must be one of those recessive-gene taste bud things - I remember there being some other chemical that most people can't taste at all, and to a few people, it's the most awful-tasting thing in the world. Same deal, I reckon.
posted by majcher at 3:31 PM on April 14, 2004

I can't stand it either. For me the flavor overwhelms whatever it is on and entirely removes the joy of eating it. One of the most miserable meals in my life was breakfast at a friend's house in Mexico where the cook served up a tortilla soup (don't know what it is called) that was essentially tortilla's drowned in equal amounts salsa verde and fresh cilantro. I didn't want to be rude, so I ate it, but it was difficult.

Most of my friends don't care strongly either way, some love it.
posted by shotsy at 3:31 PM on April 14, 2004

Cilantro is one of the few tastes that Julia Child has said she hates - and she's one tough, food-lovin' old broad. :-) I love the stuff.

A related question: I remember in high school, our biology teacher had our class taste a white, powdery substance that was flavorless to some people, but evoked a disgusted reaction among others. Does anyone know what that was?
posted by stonerose at 3:32 PM on April 14, 2004

urp - what majcher said.
posted by stonerose at 3:35 PM on April 14, 2004

I'm surprised no one has said "genetic trait," yet (oops, on preview I see it finally came up). I have heard this on many occasions though never seen a really good discussion of it. A Google search yields an article that notes, at the end:
"Cilantro has both a taste and a smell and a mouth feel," says Marcia Levin Pelchat, doctor of sensory psychology with Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. "All of those contribute to the flavor. We think there is some sort of genetically based differences in taste."

Scientists believe a gene is missing. But who's missing it, those who love a food or those who hate it?

"No one knows," Pelchat says. "Probably everyone has a slightly different sensory world."

Some tastes are universal, she says. Almost everyone likes sweet flavors to some extent.

We'll leave the cilantro debate with a suggestion. One reader wrote that she not only loves cilantro but once fed it to her pet bunny to cure fur balls. If that's not an endorsement, we don't know what is.
full article
Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man is a real disappointment here, too, although it does have information about asparagus smell hypersensitivity and aversion to vegetables like broccoli and kale.
posted by caitlinb at 3:37 PM on April 14, 2004

I hate cilantro. I am also no particular fan of cooked broccoli, and I figure if you eat cauliflower, you might as well also eat kleenex.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:47 PM on April 14, 2004

I'm ambivalent to cilantro, neither loving or hating it.
posted by The God Complex at 3:50 PM on April 14, 2004

julia child famously hates the stuff, and so do i. it's commonly known in the culinary world that it's a divisive topic, though i don't know the scientific explanation for that. to me, it makes everything taste like soap. when my dad put it on salmon (which i enjoy) once, i couldn't eat the stuff at all. and like you, i'm not a picky eater at all--come to think of it, besides brains, it's really the only cuisine thing i won't eat.
posted by ifjuly at 3:51 PM on April 14, 2004

You could call us acquaintances but not friends.
posted by The God Complex at 3:52 PM on April 14, 2004

it's just struck me that you're all speaking spanish! for any english (uk) people, they're talking about fresh corriander (or is it called cilantro in the uk now too? or am i going mad?)
posted by andrew cooke at 4:04 PM on April 14, 2004

Cilantro solves bunny fur balls? I'll need to start buying it. My little critters love love love cilantro.

I suspect taste is one of those nature + nurture things. When I stayed at a friend's in Mexico, his family gave me a bunch of sliced papaya for breakfast. I bit into some, and it was all I could do not to puke at the table.

I was later informed that wasn't uncommon when a person first ate fresh papaya, but was something you learned to like. Maybe some foods just require the body to get used to them. Yeah, that sounds scientific enough.
posted by Salmonberry at 4:05 PM on April 14, 2004

I bought some cilantro to plant last year-then I took a sniff of it and about gagged. The weird thing is I like Thai food but it shows up in it quite a bit. I had some weird vegetable rollup thingee yesterday from the Thai restaurant around the corner-I didn't realize it had fresh cilantro in it till I took a bite. The taste literally lingered all afternoon, even tho I was eating other things as well...if there are enough other herbs and flavorings for it to riff off of I can survive but the stuff in general is naaaasssstay. I hate the smell worse than I hate the taste.

That and raw celery are the only things I hate. (well, liver too, but not as much.)
posted by konolia at 4:07 PM on April 14, 2004

"Soap" is a reasonably good description of how cilantro tastes to me, too.

If we're doing a survey to see if that's correlated with broccoli or cauliflower, I like both of those.

A related question: I remember in high school, our biology teacher had our class taste a white, powdery substance that was flavorless to some people, but evoked a disgusted reaction among others.

It could be any of phenylthiocarbamide, thiourea, or sodium benzoate, all three of which can be tasted by some people and not by others. Also, the ability or inability to taste each of these is known to be genetically determined.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 4:08 PM on April 14, 2004

So what weird genetic factor would account for the fact that I love peanut butter (especially on raw celery, actually, or in a sammich with honey and bananas), but immediately want to cry and vomit and wash my mouth out with soap (or cilantro!) if I take a bite of a peanut butter cookie?
posted by scody at 4:22 PM on April 14, 2004

I don't like it, although I can handle it. If there's more than a small amount all I can taste-smell is decaying soap, and I definitely wouldn't choose to add it to food if I had the option (it gives a weird slimy feeling in my mouth too).

I love broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and celery - cooked or raw, so no correlation with cilantro here either. And I love spicy food, the hotter the better (I have yet to find something too hot for me to eat - I've had things that were hotter than I liked, but never too hot to eat at all), so no correlation with that, either. Although spicy food WITH cilantro is a nightmare - I feel like I'm sniffing ammonia - that soapy smell-taste seems to be enhanced by spicy heat.
posted by biscotti at 4:22 PM on April 14, 2004

I love cilantro and always assumed people didnt like it just because it is a strong flavor. It does taste fresh and zingy and herbal as someone else described above. I would never think it tastes like soap though...

Reading this thread it now seems that it is more than just an acquired/non-acquired taste but something genetic. The article caitlinb linked to also informally concludes that the cilantro gene is about equally divided in the population.
posted by vacapinta at 4:22 PM on April 14, 2004

I'm like that with lemongrass--I really get nauseous from it. I ask at every restaurant whether they use it--you can do that with cilantro. I think it's maybe just that for eons our ancestors never ate certain flavors, so our bodies react badly to a foreign, possibly poisonous thing, and most of us didn't have exotic seasonings or flavors while growing up. Everything is so much more international/fusion-y in our seasonings nowadays.
posted by amberglow at 4:33 PM on April 14, 2004

Andrew Cooke - we discussed this topic on my blog a few months ago. Americans and Mexicans differentiate between coriander (the seed) and cilantro (the leaves). The Brits, Aussies, and Indians just call the whole thing coriander.

Interestingly, I hated cilantro growing up in the States. It tasted like soap to me too. After moving to Australia and eating this "new" herb coriander in many dishes, I lost the soap flavor completely. Now it just tastes good. (Mmm, Thai green curry.) So count me in the "acquired taste" camp.
posted by web-goddess at 4:49 PM on April 14, 2004

I used to dislike cilantro (no allergy-like reactions, tho), but have come to love it. I use it in almost every Mexican and Thai dish I make. Coriander seeds are awesome in curries as well.
posted by maniactown at 4:58 PM on April 14, 2004

I'm against cilantro, broccoli and cauliflower. They all taste really bitter to me. Even small amounts of cilantro can put me off an otherwise appetizing dish. I like celery, spinach and a lot of other green vegetables. I remember in biology class in seventh grade we did these little tests to see which of us were "tasters." If you weren't a taster, you put this strip in your mouth and tasted nothing. If you were a taster, you touched it to your tongue and immediately said "blech!"
posted by jessamyn at 4:59 PM on April 14, 2004

This is way out there, but I figure it's worth mentioning . . .

Cilantro is frequently used in chelation therapy for people suffering from metal toxicity (from various sources, usually mercury fillings). Apparently, the oils have the ability to draw out the metals. If you have metal fillings (or undiagnosed metal toxicity), perhaps the poisonous taste is caused by the cilantro leeching out the metal from the filling?
posted by necessitas at 4:59 PM on April 14, 2004

it's just struck me that you're all speaking spanish! for any english (uk) people, they're talking about fresh corriander (or is it called cilantro in the uk now too? or am i going mad?)

Yes, stark raving, but you're also right. Cilantro = coriander = Chinese parsely = yan sui = Coriandrum Sativum.
posted by Mo Nickels at 5:04 PM on April 14, 2004

I love cilantro. I think I loved it thanks in large part to Mexican food (cilantro is key to a real taco - can't find that kind of taco here in Boston though), and also the various foods from Southeast Asia (Thai, Vietnamese in particular). My roommates both absolutely hate it and I could never understand why... It doesn't have a very intense taste to me. Apparently it's fairly common. To me it adds a great refreshing flavor and texture, nothing very intrusive... It's used like lettuce in bahn mi (Vietnamese sandwiches) and I think it's great. Sometimes I eat a leaf of it plain to gross my roommates out.
posted by swank6 at 5:19 PM on April 14, 2004

Necessitas - no metal fillings here, and count me in with those who distinctly taste soap when eating cilantro.

However, I still put it in my salsa, due to my stubborn nature. I may hate the way it tastes, but salsa seems to lack something without it.
posted by annathea at 5:49 PM on April 14, 2004

My mother hates it, and I don't mind it and even kinda like it a little.

She also hates Brussels sprouts, as do I. But we both like broccoli and are indifferent to cauliflower. Go figure.
posted by Vidiot at 6:10 PM on April 14, 2004

I like fresh coriander. I love (lightly steamed) cauliflower and broccoli (to a lesser extent). I have metal fillings.

I don't necessarily buy the genetic argument: if we were living in the age of demons and spirits, as opposed to the age of genetics, we'd have people crawling out the woodwork to declare those who dislike cilantro, affected by some unhappy entity or other.

It could easily be that the tastes we were introduced to as children set us for or against fresh coriander's distinctive taste, which would also go some way to explaining people's acquired appreciation of the flavour.
posted by Blue Stone at 6:11 PM on April 14, 2004

In the Julia Child CNN interview that someone linked to, she expresses a hatred for only cilantro and arugula. They're quite different; I like both. What about the cilantro-haters out there - do you also detest arugula?
posted by stonerose at 6:30 PM on April 14, 2004

I found something about cilantro a while ago when I was trying to learn exactly how the senses smell and taste worked. It turns out that it does taste different to different people and that there's somewhat of a divide between a European's view of this flavour and others. Read here< .br>
Hmm... I was always going to collect my notes together and do a FPP on smell and taste but never got around to it :P

I'm of European descent and I love it, especially fresh in a salsa. Mmm.
posted by substrate at 6:44 PM on April 14, 2004

i had no idea there was so much hatred for cilantro. i love the stuff. I first discovered its wonderful flavor in salsa.
i also really like broccoli and Brussels sprouts but do not care for cooked cauliflower.
when i was a kid i saw in a lot of kids shows i watched specifically, "you cant do that on television," broccoli and Brussels sprouts being portrayed as worse than eating dirt to a kid. i felt like a badass because i enjoyed Brussels sprouts. a mother on that show was always threatening her kids that they would have to eat them all to leave the table or when they were bad.
posted by Recockulous at 6:45 PM on April 14, 2004

What about the cilantro-haters out there - do you also detest arugula?

I also hate arugula, it is the bitterest. I pick it out of my salads.
posted by jessamyn at 7:33 PM on April 14, 2004

Cilantro is pretty common in Indian cuisine. I love it! In fact when I usually say sandwich, I mean bread with a cilantro chutney on it, along with veggies. I had no idea some people didn't like cilantro till today.
posted by riffola at 7:50 PM on April 14, 2004

Oh also dry and roasted cilantro seed halves are a great after-meal mouth freshener. In fact roasted fenugreek seeds (I think), and roasted cilantro seeds mix is a very common after-meal mouth freshener in India.
posted by riffola at 7:53 PM on April 14, 2004

You're going to run into the language difficulty again, stonerose. The non-US parts of the world call arugula "rocket". Again, this is something I hated at first but I'm coming to like it. Depends on whether the salad has enough other stuff going on so that the rocket just complements instead of overwhelms.
posted by web-goddess at 8:46 PM on April 14, 2004

What about the cilantro-haters out there - do you also detest arugula?

I'm a cilantro-disliker (although I can handle it, I don't really like it, and if there's more than a little, it tastes like soap), and I don't mind arugula at all. Also, no fillings here, so that's not why I don't like cilantro.
posted by biscotti at 9:07 PM on April 14, 2004

I was told in a cooking class that it's genetic, and as a restaurant critic and food editor for years, I think if it were anything else I would have grown accustomed to the taste. It really does taste, to those of us with this sensitivity, like something you should not be eating. Not like soap, really, but it definitely shares some characteristics with soap. I describe it more as burned plastic taste.
posted by GaelFC at 9:59 PM on April 14, 2004

I figure if you eat cauliflower, you might as well also eat kleenex.

More Aloo Gobi for me!
posted by scarabic at 10:37 PM on April 14, 2004

I love cilantro. In fact I just made some black bean/sweet potato burritos (recipe thanks to jennyb and AskMeFi!) that call for a good dose of it - and I am swooning over how awesome they are. I have heard a couple times before now people that dislike it saying it tastes like soap and I can't figure out where you'd find that flavor in it - lemony and maybe grassy are the biggest flavors I find.

I love broccoli, like cauliflower, can't stand brussels sprouts, barely tolerate cabbage, and I have metal fillings. Oh, and I don't go out of my way to eat arugula, but it doesn't faze me in small doses.
posted by Melinika at 10:54 PM on April 14, 2004

Arugula isn't bad in moderation. My idea of moderate is, though, probably 1/10th that of those who like arugula.

My issue with cauliflower is that it is bland. Why eat a cauliflower when you could eat a broccoli?
posted by five fresh fish at 10:56 PM on April 14, 2004

Cilantro is an unusual flavor, even for a spice - rather than becoming part of the flavors of the dish (not sure the culinary term - melding, probably), it tastes like "(food) with cilantro." Generally, pollutants in your food don't tend to meld either. And it does have a bitter, (if you think about it) alkaline taste. So there's good reason to react to it as a hostile non-food item. Personally, I like it anyway.
posted by abcde at 11:01 PM on April 14, 2004

My wife hates cilantro and says it's because it reminds her of the smell of a Japanese insect called kamemushi (turtle bug). Maybe a case of convergent evolution to ward off would-be predators?
posted by shoos at 1:47 AM on April 15, 2004

Cilantro = coriander = Chinese parsely

Amusingly, I have a cookbook that claims that the Chinese word for parsley literally means "Western coriander".
posted by bifter at 2:19 AM on April 15, 2004

Is 'soap' the default bad taste that people have when they don't like something? I hate ham and walnuts and asparagus, but I don't think that any of them smacked of Ivory.
posted by pieoverdone at 5:45 AM on April 15, 2004

I love cilantro. Just smelling it will make me immediately hungry, and when I buy it in the store, I will walk around with my nose in the bunch for most of my turn in the produce section.

I hate califlower. I used to hate spinach, then I made myself like it and ate a lot of it for many years, and now I can't eat it anymore. It literaly makes me gag.

Raw broccoli with some sort of flavor-masking dip is great. Cooked broccoli I can eat if I choke it down FAST. Otherwise, ick ick ick.

I have no metal fillings, and I don't think I had cilantro the first time until I was well into if not past my college years.

Melinka, I am thrilled you tried and liked the sweet potato burritos! Yay!
posted by jennyb at 6:14 AM on April 15, 2004

I feel so much better about myself after reading this thread. I always assumed I was the only person on Earth who despised cilantro and wanted to never ever be forced to eat it ever again.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:57 AM on April 15, 2004

I'm with jennyb - I love the stuff - the smell, the taste - so yummy. Especially when it's combined with cumin and fresh lime juice (like in salsa, black bean salad, guacamole, etc...).

For the record: I love broccoli, hate cauliflower and brussel sprouts, don't like arugula and cabbage. Used to have metal fillings, but not anymore (replaced by that white composite stuff). No exotic foods as a child. Mom hates cilantro, Dad doesn't care one way or the other, siblings both like it.
posted by MsVader at 8:37 AM on April 15, 2004

I used to hate cilantro, couldn't stand to be near it in the grocery store, and it ruined any food it touched.

But it's a common ingredient in many cuisines I like, so I went on a program to acquire the taste. Salsa is a good place to start, since the other flavors are so strong. I added a little at first, then more and more over the course of a few months.

Now I love it, and put it in everything. I grow it in my garden and eat whole handfuls of the fresh stuff. I make cilantro pesto for pasta.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:34 AM on April 15, 2004

Oh, and riffola, it's fennel seeds, not fenugreek. At least, that's what I've had (and have in my kitchen), sometimes candy-coated. Yummy!
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:38 AM on April 15, 2004

The very idea of forcing myself to eat enough cilantro to become used to the taste makes me want to vomit.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:43 AM on April 15, 2004

I'm fine with coriander, but I'm allergic in varying degrees to the entire mint family (from peppermint to pot on a continuum from least to most).

As far as soapy tasting foods go, I think the pink ginger served with sushi tastes like laundry detergent.
posted by me3dia at 9:52 AM on April 15, 2004

I too once read that there was a genetic difference in taste receptors between those for whom cilantro tasted "fresh, like rain" and those for whom it tasted "like urinal cakes" (which I think is a much better descriptor than "soap"). I used to loathe the taste, but after years of unavoidable exposure have adapted to the point where I merely dislike it. What a rotten way to ruin a perfectly good salsa, though. Sigh.
posted by rushmc at 10:00 AM on April 15, 2004

Is 'soap' the default bad taste that people have when they don't like something?

No, I think it's just cilantro that has a taste that is reminiscent of eating soap. I used to think it was simply Indian food that tasted like soap, until I started dating someone who could not stand cilantro. He would order everything that might have cilantro in it, without it, and I became a great fan of Indian.

I have metal fillings! He didn't, though. I've never had cauliflower (!), broccoli is my favorite vegetable in the whole world, steamed with a bit of salt or butter or cheese or in chinese food or raw, mm mm mm.

Time for lunch!
posted by precocious at 10:18 AM on April 15, 2004

Am I the only one with a sudden craving for sauteed brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower with cilantro right now?
posted by Acetylene at 10:19 AM on April 15, 2004

No, I'm craving it too -- but minus the brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower. That'll ruin some perfectly tasty cilantro!
posted by scody at 1:15 PM on April 15, 2004

Hey, wow, now I'll stop hassling my crazy friend who says cilantro tastes like soap. Maybe.
hi scody
posted by lbergstr at 4:29 PM on April 15, 2004

Hi lbergstr! Did you ever read Joseph Roth?
posted by scody at 4:52 PM on April 15, 2004

My wife hates cilantro and says it's because it reminds her of the smell of a Japanese insect called kamemushi (turtle bug).

Wow! I was biting my tongue not wanting to add that growing up the smell/taste reminded me of cockroaches. And I was raised in Asia. How odd.

Now I love the stuff! A great dip is half salsa, half cilantro. A sandwich with roastbeef, havarti and a handful of cilantro is heaven!
posted by Feisty at 7:15 PM on April 15, 2004

Thanks MrMoonPie! Yes, fennel, I always keep mizing those two up.
posted by riffola at 1:53 PM on April 17, 2004

I've read in several places in print, and now online at Gourmetsleuth that the smell of bedbugs and the smell of cilantro are thought to be related. Ewww..

In the interest of full disclosure, I love cilantro, and have never been exposed to bedbugs. :)
posted by Stoatfarm at 12:04 PM on April 18, 2004

I love cilantro, but the description of it as "like urinal cakes" reminds me of how too much ginger tastes to me. A little ginger, well-ground, is yummy. But too much of it gives me that urinal cakes feeling.
posted by rusty at 6:09 AM on May 5, 2004

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