by Karen Foster
May 28, 2014
is a holistic nutritionist, avid blogger, with five kids
and an active lifestyle that keeps her in pursuit of the
healthiest path towards a life of balance.
I recently ran into a website and forum that was
dedicated to hating cilantro, one of my most favorite herbs. I must
admit I found it humorous, but I didn't realize there were so many
people that hated cilantro, also known as coriander.
Some people may be
genetically predisposed to dislike the herb, but the numbers are
much higher than previously thought.
Many of the healing properties of
coriander (cilantro, Chinese
parsley or dhania) can be attributed to its
exceptional phytonutrient content. Coriander's volatile oil is rich
in beneficial phytonutrients, flavonoids, plus active phenolic acid
Coriander has a health-supporting reputation that is high on the
list of healing spices. In parts of Europe, it has traditionally
been referred to as an "anti-diabetic" plant. In parts of India, it
has traditionally been used for its anti-inflammatory properties. In
the United States, coriander has recently been studied for its
Coriander seeds were found in
one study (Hypolipidemic
effect of coriander seeds (Coriandrum sativum) - Mechanism of action) on rats to have a significant hypolipidaemic effect,
resulting in lowering of levels of total cholesterol and
triglycerides, and increasing levels of high-density lipoprotein.
This effect appeared to be caused by
increasing synthesis of bile by the liver and increasing the
breakdown of cholesterol into other compounds.
It helps stimulate secretion of insulin and lowers blood sugar.
Coriander reduced the amount of damaged fats (lipid peroxides) in
cell membranes. And when given to rats fed a high-fat,
high-cholesterol diet, coriander actually increases levels of HDL
(the "good" cholesterol).
Research also suggests that the volatile
oils found in the leaves of the coriander plant, commonly known as
cilantro, may have antimicrobial properties.
For the first time,
cilantro is on the list of foods with high pesticide levels.
It's yet another herb which consumers should be purchasing organic.
Testing by federal scientists found 33 unapproved pesticides on 44
percent of the cilantro samples tested.
Cilantro is an excellent source of minerals like potassium, calcium,
manganese, iron, and magnesium. Fresh leaves should be washed
thoroughly in water in order to remove the dirt and to get rid of
any residual pesticides which can be harmful for health. It is best
used while it is fresh as it retains its unique fragrance and
Freshly chopped coriander leaves are a
great addition to green salad.
The leaves have a different taste from the seeds, with citrus
However, many people experience an
unpleasant soapy taste or a rank smell and avoid the leaves. The
different perceptions of the coriander leaves' taste is likely
genetic, with some people having no response to the aromatic
chemical that most find pleasant, while simultaneously being
sensitive to certain offending compounds.
An entire website
I Hate Cilantro.com is dedicated to those who despise the taste.
One quote on the front page states,
"No normally functioning human being
would ever in a lifetime consider cilantro edible."
The website has over 4000 members with
what appears to be hundreds of stories of people explaining why they
Some people may be genetically predisposed to dislike cilantro,
according to often-cited studies by Charles J. Wysocki of the Monell
Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia.
But cilantrophobe genetics
remain little known and aren't under systematic investigation.
Meanwhile, history, chemistry and neurology have been adding some
valuable pieces to the puzzle. Some experts estimate that in the
United States alone, more than 20% of people may have sensitivity to
A genetic survey of nearly 30,000 people identified two genetic
variants linked to perception of coriander, the most common of which
is in a gene involved in sensing smells.
Determinants of Cilantro Preference) also link several other variants in genes involved in
taste and smell to the preference
In 2011, Lilli Mauer, a nutrition scientist at the University
of Toronto in Canada, identified variants in a different olfactory
receptor gene and a bitter taste receptor gene linked to coriander
preference among more than 500 people of European descent.
Helen Leach, an anthropologist at the University of Otago in New
Zealand, has traced unflattering remarks about cilantro flavor and
the bug etymology - not endorsed by modern dictionaries - back to
English garden books and French farming books from around 1600, when
medieval dishes had fallen out of fashion. She suggests that
cilantro was disparaged as part of a general effort to define the
new European table against the flavors of the old.
Modern cilantrophobes tend to describe
the offending flavor as soapy rather than buggy. For other it remind
them of hand lotion or creams. Each of these associations turns out
to make good chemical sense.
Flavor chemists have found that cilantro
aroma is created by a half-dozen or so substances, and most of these
are modified fragments of fat molecules called aldehydes.
The same or similar aldehydes are also
found in soaps and lotions and the bug family of insects.
Soaps are made by fragmenting fat
molecules with strongly alkaline lye or its equivalent, and
aldehydes are a byproduct of this process, as they are when oxygen
in the air attacks the fats and oils in cosmetics. And many bugs
make strong-smelling, aldehyde-rich body fluids to attract or repel
The published studies of cilantro aroma
describe individual aldehydes as having both cilantrolike and soapy
qualities. Several flavor chemists thave stated that they smell a
soapy note in the whole herb as well, but still find its aroma fresh
So the cilantro aldehydes are olfactory
Jekyll-and-Hydes. Why is it only the evil, soapy side that shows up
for cilantrophobes, and not the charming one?
Dr. Jay Gottfried, a neuroscientist at
Northwestern University who studies how the brain perceives
smells, stated that the great cilantro split probably reflects the
primal importance of smell and taste to survival, and the brain's
constant updating of its database of experiences.
If the flavor doesn't fit a familiar food experience, and instead
fits into a pattern that involves chemical cleaning agents and dirt,
or crawly insects, then the brain highlights the mismatch and the
potential threat to our safety. We react strongly and throw the
offending ingredient on the floor where it belongs.
Every new experience causes the brain to update and enlarge its set
of patterns, and this can lead to a shift in how we perceive a food.
"I didn't like cilantro to begin
with," he said.
"But I love food, and I ate all
kinds of things, and I kept encountering it. My brain must have
developed new patterns for cilantro flavor from those
experiences, which included pleasure from the other flavors and
the sharing with friends and family. That's how people in
cilantro-eating countries experience it every day."
"So I began to like cilantro," he said.
"It can still remind me of soap, but
it's not threatening anymore, so that association fades into the
background, and I enjoy its other qualities. On the other hand,
if I ate cilantro once and never willingly let it pass my lips
again, there wouldn't have been a chance to reshape that
Cilantro itself can be reshaped to make
it easier to take.
A Japanese study published suggested
that crushing the leaves will give leaf enzymes the chance to
gradually convert the aldehydes into other substances with no aroma.