Why Do Some People Think Cilantro Tastes Like Soap?

If you hate cilantro, this could be why.

cilantro on cutting board with knife
Photo: Debra Williams/Meredith

Cilantro is an essential herb in many recipes, and one many culinary cultures swear by for their cuisines. But there is a lot of controversy surrounding cilantro's taste.

To some, cilantro is a delicious herb that tastes bright and citrusy. To others, cilantro is a soapy mess that ruins every recipe it touches.

Now, researchers say there's a scientific reason some people think cilantro tastes like soap, and it's not just them being picky.

What Is Cilantro?

Cilantro is an herb from the fresh leaves of the coriander plant, which is a member of the parsley family. This means cilantro's cousins include parsley, dill, fennel, and cumin. Cilantro is also known as Chinese parsley or Mexican parsley and is found in many Mexican, Middle Eastern, Indian, and Asian dishes.

The general consensus among cilantro haters is that the herb tastes soapy, which is the case for about 4 to 14 percent of the population — famously including Julia Child and Ina Garten. Scientists have been trying to figure out exactly why people hate cilantro so much, and they have found some — but maybe not all — answers.

Why Cilantro Tastes Like Soap

Researchers at the consumer genetics firm 23andMe performed a survey, asking about 30,000 people whether they liked cilantro and what they thought it tasted like. They found that those people who said cilantro tastes like soap share a common smell-receptor gene cluster called OR6A2. This gene cluster picks up the scent of aldehyde chemicals. Natural aldehyde chemicals are found in cilantro leaves, and those chemicals are also used during soapmaking.

While the OR6A2 gene may cause some people to taste soap when they eat cilantro, there are at least three more genes that seem to be involved. One codes for smell receptors, and the other two affect the taste of bitterness — so even if you don't have the OR6A2 gene, other genetics could play a factor in your cilantro hatred.

Other studies have shown that this genetic trait varies geographically. And, interestingly, places where cilantro is popular, like Central America and India, have fewer people with these genes.

But the 23andMe study also tested whether the soap-tasting gene is passed down through generations and found that it wasn't, so it's unclear why regions with cilantro-heavy cuisines show less cilantro loathing.

There is also some evidence that people who hate cilantro can overcome this distaste with repeated exposure to the herb — especially if it's crushed or minced. But many people choose to use parsley in place of cilantro instead to avoid the soapy taste all together.

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