Why cilantro-haters hate cilantro

I have loved cilantro (also known as coriander) passionately since first eating it in a Vietnamese restaurant in a former gas station in downtown Chicago when I was 10. And most people seemed to agree with me that it is the best herb ever. Only in recent years did I stumble upon the vocal minority of cilantro-haters—the people who think my beloved cilantro tastes like soap. I do not understand them. But Nature News offers some insight. Turns out, dislike of cilantro is linked to a variation in a gene associated with our sense of smell. Bonus: If you hate cilantro whole, there's some evidence to suggest you might like it pulverized in a pesto.


      1.  Fake fruit flavor tends to be awful, so I do get this. See also cherry flavored, strawberry flavored, etc.

        1. Ah, but the thing is you do get good flavours too. But anything banana flavoured, even if they get the flavour right, I don’t like it. It’s almost like there’s an acid, texture or enzyme or something that needs to be there for me to enjoy it.

          1. The texture is definitely part of the experience, so yeah – sounds plausible.

            I’m one of the oddballs that  enjoy strong synthetic flavours – fake cherry is a favourite, but fake banana is also decent. The trick is to consider them as something entirely distinct, with the name being little more than an arbitrary identifier. (Home-made cherry juice is great; artificial cherry candy is great; there’s no relation beyond the name. )

          2. Fake cherry = cough medicine.
            Fake lemon/lime = urinal cake.
            Fake banana = nail polish remover.
            Fake strawberry = shampoo.

            Maybe we as a species should stop using food flavors for non-foods before we create repulsive associations for every fruit.

        2. I don’t think so, because I agree with Nathan and that includes things flavored with real bananas such as bananas in smoothies.

      2.  You’ve got that backwards…

        …or maybe I’m the one that’s got that backwards…

        …to be sure, there is backwardness involved.

  1. Thanks for pointing out the genetic angle – very few people are aware of this. My wife and I are in the “tastes like soap” contingent, and what makes it worse is (at least for us) it utterly overpowers everything else in the dish. It may be a great zesty herb for most, for us it means we’re literally gagging on what tastes like a mouthful of soap.

    1. it utterly overpowers everything else in the dish.

      The same is true for parsley and celery, those scourges of Anglo cooking. A tiny leaf and the whole thing tastes like something that you’d feed your goat to de-worm him.

  2. Science! I am a cilantro hater, as is my son. My wife and daughter love it. Tastes like really spicy, icky soap to me.

    Fun fact: it is really hard to remove chopped cilantro from salsa.

  3. I’m also an anti-clinatrist by birth. However, I have had dishes with very moderate amounts of the Devil’s Herb in which it actually worked, and I was able to appreciate the effect. Specifically, a salsa at a Mexican place I used to frequent, and a Vietnamese dish I tried last year. But even after having a couple positive experiences with it, the primary effect is still that of a rotting dish sponge.

    1. I’m amazed a Vietnamese dish you tried only had moderate amounts. I’ve eaten at three Vietnamese restaurants in two different cities and with every dish I’ve tried they seem to treat cilantro like a food group unto itself.

      You’ve probably seen the bundles of cilantro they sell in the produce section of the grocery store. At the Vietnamese restaurant closest to me they seem to buy those bundles in bulk and stick an entire one in every dish.

      It doesn’t bother me, but I can understand why it would put some people off of pho.

      1. I’ve actually found that despite hating cilantro the presence of fish sauce in a dish renders it inoffensive to pleasant. So most of your South East Asian dishes I could care less if cilantro is present or not.

  4. This might be a regional thing (I live in Middle-Europe and Cilantro is not a very common herb here to say the least), but while I really like Cilantro, most people here seem to hate it and with a passion.
    I frequently hear people say they don’t like Mexican or sometimes Thai-Food because of a “certain taste”. Upon futher investigation, this “certain taste” is more or less always Cilantro (or Cumin in some cases)
    So, at least here, we Cilantro-lovers are vastly outnumbered by the haters. Also it’s next to impossible to buy fresh outside of Asia-Shops.
    I always thought it was an acquired taste. I did no like it when I tried it the first time, but fell in love with it during vacation in Mexico and Guatemala.

    1. I was raised in a proper Cilantrist home. I certainly shudder at the idea of my children going to school with anti-clinatrists. How perverted! We need to make it clear that as a community we will not put up with this unnatural behavior.

    1. Well bergamot is used for its bitter flavor and “soapy” flavors reside on the bitter end of things so I’d say your being pretty accurate here.

        1. I love the smell of coffe. Although, these days, caffeine makes me sweat uncontrollably for about an hour, another case of aging making everything sucky.

    2. Here’s a question no one has asked yet, “What if you think cilantro tastes like soap but you don’t mind eating it?”  There’s a Mexican restaurant I like that uses cilantro to give its salsa a soapy flavor, but if the cilantro gets left out the salsa just isn’t the same.  My mother won’t eat the salsa because she hates cilantro.  Shouldn’t I either hate or like cilantro?  Why am I in both categories and what does that mean? (No, I’m not joking here.)

      1. Shouldn’t I either hate or like cilantro?

        Nah. You should either taste it as soap or not. But your reaction to the soapy flavor doesn’t have to be hate. Maybe you just oddly enjoy soapy flavors.

        Likewise, I’m sure there are people who don’t taste cilantro as soap, but happen to dislike its non-soap flavor.

      2. I’m the same. It tastes like soap to me, but I’m quite open to very odd flavors. Have you ever had a shiso leaf, the real version of the plastic grass that comes with sushi?

  5. I have long suspected that cilantro hate is deeper than just being a bit picky. The people I know who hate cilantro LOATHE it, and talk about how they don’t understand how I can eat that awful, bitter, soapy stuff. They’re literally tasting something much different than I am.

  6. My first cilantro experience was at a Thai restaurant where I ordered the friendly sounding Chicken Yum salad. It was dosed with handfuls of cilantro and lemongrass and the combo was aromatic hell.
    I tried to finish it for silly social reasons and the exposure set my registers to allergic avoidance of either herb. 

  7. I’m not sure what this makes me, as someone who USED to think it tasted like soap, then had a magical culinary experience with some swordfish, and now I love it and do not taste the soap thing at all.

    Have I mutated?

    1. People’s taste buds do change over time; usually, it’s just a matter of them dying out and not being replaced. (Something to remember if your kids seem excessively finicky when it comes to certain foods.) I used to not be able to tolerate sauerkraut or hops in beer.

  8. I really like cilantro.  It tastes perhaps a touch minty to me.  What I loathe in mass quantity is cumin.  It smells like dirty gym socks to me.  I still use it, sparingly, in cooking, because the smell doesn’t translate entirely into a taste.  And really, you can’t cook Mexican or Indian without it.

      1. Well, now I’m intrigued.  Com’mon, this is the nettubes.  You can tell us what it smells like to you.  If need be, find an Urban Dictionary synonym.

  9. Mexican food (*not* tex-mex/southwestern) is almost my favorite cuisine.  I really can’t imagine not being able to use cilantro which enhances so many dishes, and I thank my lucky stars I like the taste. I get that it’s really pungent though, and I can imagine how it might taste ‘metallic’ (or whatever) to those naturally averse to it.

  10. As a teenager, my doctor prescribed Retin-A, which is apparently a brand name for Tretinoin, for my acne. Although I never tasted it, it smelled exactly like cilantro tastes/smells to me.

    …and it did nothing for my acne (Retin-A. I never tried cilantro).

  11. Pesto? So I’m supposed to try cilantro, which tastes nasty, by mixing it with basil, which tastes nasty, pine nuts, which taste nasty, and make me sick, and parmesan, which tastes nasty, makes me sick, and could trigger my asthma. No thanks.

      1. I dislike pesto because it was so unavoidable in the 1980s. And you got a lecture on the history and ingredients with your dinner. Straight people discovered BDSM and jello salad people discovered pesto.

  12. I’ve loved cilantro since discovering it many years ago. However, we’ve had a stink bug invasion here in Pittsburgh. The smell these things emit is something like cilantro mixed with very bad things.

    I’ve found that when the stink bugs are around in full force (early spring, late fall) that I have to lay off the cilantro habit. Nothing like the vision of munching on brown marmorated stink bugs to put you off your feed.

    1. Yes, yes. It smells EXACTLY like stink bugs. I hate that these stupid stink bugs have affected my love of Cilantro.

  13. Is this gene thing regional though?

    I only ever heard of people disliking coriander in this way via the interwebs and Americans. I know people in the UK that aren’t a big fan of coriander, but the whole soap thing and extreme disgust I’ve only ever heard from afar.

    Any Brits reading with this affliction?

    Mexican and Indian food would be ruined without coriander for me. For what it’s worth I’m not even a big fan of coriander, but it kind of completes the flavour in a lot of these foods.

    1. ‘Any Brits reading with this affliction?’

      Yep, coriander tastes like soap and it completely overwhelms everything else on the plate – even Indian and Thai dishes.

      In short, exterminate it – it’s the condiment of the devil.

    2. Fellow brit here suffering under affliction!

      For me it does leave an overpowering and particularly nasty acrid after taste at the back of my mouth and a similar feeling of “I’m never NOT going to taste this ever again!” that I can also get from visiting metalshops or a garage, but I’ve never really heard anyone else complain about coriander in such terms except online.

      However I am fine with it in pesto in small amounts so I’d probably be fine with it in other dips too. It mainly seems to be when it’s in a natural or dried form, say sprinkled on top of a roast chicken or mixed in with leafy green salads, that is becomes Pure Evil.

  14. Note that the article does not say that all cilantro haters have this genetic difference, or even that most of them do, or even that a sizable percentage of them do.

    But coriander-haters should not be in any rush to have their genomes analysed. Eriksson and his team calculate that less than 10% of coriander preference is due to common genetic variants. 

    So if you tell me that you hate cilantro and it’s just because of your genes, I still get to roll my eyes and say it’s because you just never acquired this adult taste (I hated its soapy flavor too as a child!), and there’s a 90% chance that I’m right.

    But I know, I know, you love having genes to blame for your picky eating.

  15. I don’t taste it as soap, but just as a very strong… something… flavor, totally overpowering all the other flavors. I have no idea how to describe it, but it doesn’t take much in a dish for everything to taste of ciliantro.

    I actually had a fish dish for lunch today, that I didn’t realize had ciliantro… until I tasted it. Urgh. It’s not so bad that I cannot eat it, but… I don’t like it. And I like more or less anything, there are only a couple of other thing I don’t like (of the things I have tasted, at least).

  16. I strenuously object to the phrase “And most people seemed to agree with me that it is the best herb ever”

    Citation needed,   or you’re just another genetically inferior Cilantrist who sadly lacks the ability to discern the noxious phytotoxins rampant in the foul weed.

  17. The gene that allows you to taste cilantro as the evil it is runs in our family too. Also I’ve had cilantro pesto, and it’s equally nasty. Basil, arugula, garlic scape–no problem.

  18. I’m in the “hates cilantro” contingency, but it’s less like soap and more like a nerve strike of “get-it-out-of-my-mouth”. I have the additional bonus of being slightly allergic* to it in its raw form, so I can usually navigate around it on the basis of that. 

    *though there are foods that i dislike BECAUSE my allergies, I have hated cilantro since before I developed that particular allergy.

  19. I’m not the staunchest cilantro-hater, it just doesn’t taste that great and I can definitely sense the soapy quality. That said it is good in some things, salsa comes to mind. But, and I thank you for pointing this out, cilantro and coriander are the same thing. This is striking to me since I have recently discovered what is quite possibly my new all-time favorite beer. And it’s brewed with coriander. Which up until now I had no idea was the same thing. But in this form I don’t read any of the negative soapy hints. It just tastes good. For all the avid haters/allergic-to cilantro folks it is New Belgium’s Trippel and it even (now that I am putting all this together) has coriander leaves in the design of the label which (duh) looks exactly like cilantro leaves. Thanks Maggie and BB, I actually learned something cool and different today.

    1. It’s actually a US/UK thing. In the UK they say “coriander” for both seeds and leaves. In the US, we got the word “cilantro” from the Spanish-speaking population (most food with cilantro in it in the US is Mexican, or at least it used to be), but kept the English word “coriander” to mean the seeds.

      Both “coriander” and “cilantro” actually come from the same Greek word koriannon, although it’s not entirely clear where the split came from.

      1. Interesting. Thanks for the input. So that probably means that in all likelihood this product is being made with the seeds and not the leaves. Which would go a long way in explaining why I love this stuff but really couldn’t be asked to give half a crap about cilantro.

      2. To clarify SamSam is saying your beer was brewed with the seeds of the plant. The leaves and the seeds taste totally different. The seeds have a very distinct citrus like flavor and are traditionally used in Belgian spiced beers and pumpkin beers. You’ve probably also run into coriander seed in any and all pumpkin pies, pickles, kebabs, gyros, cured meats, and sausages you’ve consumed. It one of the most common spices used.

        Why anyone would wast their time with the leaves when they could let things go to seed and get the very best spice ever is entirely beyond me.

      3. I’ve recently noticed on Canadian cooking shows they also call it corriander with no distinction between plant and seed.

  20. I taste Cilantro as a very metallic,  horrible flavor. I’m also rather allergic to it. my inner ears go numb, like I’m stumbling drunk, causing motion sickness from almost any movement. unfortunately, there is a point of enough ginger or heat possible to mask the flavor, leaving me up for a bad day.

  21. My mother was passionately anti-cilantro. I carry on my disdain of the herb in her memory. To be honest, I have an almost non-existent sense of smell, to the point that people are afraid to leave me home alone in case of gas leaks and what-not. I wonder if my bad sense of smell is related to her hatred of cilantro.

  22. I think it smells like stink bugs. In fact, it DOES smell like stink bugs. I love that shit though, could eat handfuls of it. I wouldn’t eat handfuls of stink bugs though.

  23. I love the taste and aroma of cilantro. Yankee Candle even has a cilantro candle out now. I love it. After reading the comments, though, I wonder if those will sell well … or if some of you will hunt the candles down in the store and smash them.

  24. Sorry if you hate chemistry.  Coriander leaf has  C8, C10 aldehydes that bother 1/7th of the population.  Stink bugs generate C10,C12 a,b-unsaturated aldehydes that bother all of us.  The resemblance is unmistakable, even to folks who like cilantro.

    Coriander also has linalool, a congener that overlaps with strawberries.  Once you know that, minced cilantro and cut strawberries is a pleasing combination.

    That, and I do not begrudge _anyone_ their sensitivity to cilantro.  It’s an agreeable challenge to good cuisine.

  25. First time I had Cilantro, which probably wasn’t until my early 20’s, I too thought it tasted like dish soap, but now I LOVE it.

  26. I have this with Celery. If someone is eating it, I have to leave the room, because the smell of it is overpoweringly offensive to me.  Even a hint of celery on food ruins the meal for me. It is simply abominable.

    People tell me “but … it doesn’t taste like anything!”, but to me, it’s very very strong, even the smell of someone eating it from 10 feet away.

  27. I’m entirely fine with Cilantro, but cucumbers have a similar effect.
    Can smell ’em from a mile away, and if they so much as touch other food it gets tainted by their horrible presence.

    Seems to be only raw though, because I’m entirely fine with stuff like tzatziki.

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