Why Cilantro Tastes Like Soap to Some People

Have you ever wondered why cilantro, a beloved herb in many cuisines, tastes like soap to some people? This puzzling phenomenon has left many cilantro haters feeling like they’re missing out on a flavorful experience.

As it turns out, the answer lies in our genes. Recent studies have discovered that variations in certain smell-receptor genes can cause some individuals to perceive the aldehydes in cilantro as soapy and unpleasant.

But the story doesn’t end there – the prevalence of cilantro aversion varies across different ethnicities, and there may be ways for cilantro haters to overcome their distaste.

The Science Behind the Cilantro Soap Gene

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For those who think cilantro tastes like soap, the culprit is likely their genes. Studies have shown that variations in a group of olfactory receptor genes, which encode proteins involved in smell perception, can cause some people to detect a soapy flavor in cilantro.

Specifically, the OR6A2 gene encodes a receptor that is highly sensitive to aldehydes, a class of compounds found in cilantro, soap, and certain insects.

A 2012 study published in the journal Flavour (ref) identified a specific genetic variation, or SNP, called rs72921001 that was associated with detecting a soapy taste in cilantro. People with this SNP were more likely to describe cilantro as soapy and unpleasant.

Interestingly, the aldehydes responsible for cilantro’s divisive flavor are also found in soaps and some bugs, which may explain why cilantro haters often describe the herb as tasting like soap or insects.

These genetic differences in smell perception help explain why cilantro aversion varies between individuals and populations. Studies estimate that between 3-21% of people dislike cilantro, depending on their ethnic background.

Cilantro aversion is most common among East Asians, with one study finding that up to 21% of East Asians dislike the herb. In contrast, cilantro dislike is less common in South Asian and Hispanic populations, where the herb is a staple in traditional cuisines.

Overcoming Cilantro Aversion

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For those who find cilantro’s taste off-putting, there may be hope yet. One strategy to reduce the soapy flavor is to crush or cook the cilantro leaves. Crushing the leaves can help break down the aldehydes responsible for the soapy taste, while cooking the herb can also alter its flavor profile.

Some cilantro haters find that they can tolerate the herb better when it’s been crushed or cooked in dishes like salsa or curry.

Another approach to overcoming cilantro aversion is through repeated exposure and positive experiences. Studies have shown that people can learn to like new flavors over time, especially when they’re associated with positive social or cultural experiences.

For example, someone who initially dislikes cilantro may come to appreciate it after trying it in a delicious dish or learning about its cultural significance in a beloved cuisine.

Go Small for Better Taste

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Cilantro haters may also find the herb more palatable in different forms or stages of growth. The stems and roots of cilantro tend to have a milder flavor than the leaves, and can be used to add a subtle cilantro taste to dishes.

Young cilantro microgreens may also be less offensive to some people than mature leaves, as they have a milder, slightly sweeter flavor profile (here’s how to grow microgreens).

Finally, those who simply can’t stand cilantro can try substituting other herbs with similar fresh, bright flavors. Parsley, mint, basil, and even lime zest can provide a similar pop of flavor to dishes without the soapy taste that some people find off-putting.

By experimenting with different herbs and preparation methods, even cilantro haters may find a way to enjoy the flavors of their favorite cuisines.

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Davin is a jack-of-all-trades but has professional training and experience in various home and garden subjects. He leans on other experts when needed and edits and fact-checks all articles.