Archive | December, 2016

To choose or not to choose… Cilantro?

2 Dec

By Laura Barnes


Image courtesy of Laura Barnes

The other night I went out to dinner with a group of friends. As we were choosing the main course, our unique food preferences were displayed through the various dishes we selected. I was surprised when my friend specifically requested for her dish to not include Cilantro. Subsequently, another friend asked for the same. As a self-professed cilantro lover, I was curious about their dislike of my beloved herb. This led to the question, why do some people love the herb, and others hate it?

Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) is also known as Chinese parsley and historically known as Coriander. Coriander has been found to have several potential health benefits, including antihyperglycemic, hypotensive, antihyperlipidemic, and antixodiant properties (Gupta, 2010).  References to the herb date back to 2000 B.C. originating in the Mediterranean and Middle East. The herb’s cultivation and use expanded across the globe and it became a staple in various cuisines, including in many European dishes (Leach, 2001).  However, by the end of the sixteenth century, Cilantro use was all but eliminated by European chefs. The reason? They found the smell of the herb resembled the particular scent of Cimex lectularius, aka bed bugs.  Really! Thus the repulsive reputation of the herb was developed (Leach, 2001). Fortunately for my taste buds and those of other Cilantro lovers, globalization has led to the re-introduction of Cilantro into many cuisines; including foods common in the current North American diet (Leach, 2001).

However, Cilantro still has the ability to elicit strong reactions. With chemical eradication, bed bugs are much less common in developed nations (Liu, 2015) and any associations with the herb surprise most people. There are people who have a particular distaste for Cilantro, claiming the taste resembles soap (Eriksson, 2012). In fact, this distinct fragrance, common to bed bugs, soap and cilantro is the result of particular molecules called aldehydes (McGee, 2010).  As odour dictates most of what we taste (Spence, 2015), the common theory is that it is the odour which drives the dislike of the herb (Eriksson, 2012). Very interestingly, not everyone carries the gene that codes for the ability to smell the aldehydes present in Cilantro (Eriksson et al., 2012) In one study, participants from East Asian and European-American backgrounds were specifically found to have a higher prevalence of dislike for Cilantro (Mauer and El-Sohem, 2012). Indeed, some of the dislike for the herb may be based on cultural norms, since it is theorized that how we perceive odours is a learned behaviour (Herz, 20016), beginning in infancy.

So, what about you? Are you a Cilantro lover? Has this debate caused heated debates around your kitchen table? If any lesson can be gleaned from the herb, it is that our taste preferences are a reflection of our own personal uniqueness and global diversity. Scientifically, no side is technically “right” or “wrong”. We are just – us – and I for one, would not have my friends any other way.


Eriksson, N., Wu, S., Do, C. B., Kiefer, A. K., Tung, J. Y., Mountain, J. L., . . . Francke, U.      (2012). A genetic variant near olfactory receptor genes influences cilantro preference.      Flavour, 1(22), 1-7.

Gupta, M. (2010). Pharmacological properties and traditional therapeutic uses of important indian  spices: A review. International Journal of Food Properties, 13(5), 1092-1116. Retrieved from:

Herz, R. (2006). I know what I like; Understanding odor preferences. In J. Drobnick (Ed.), The smell culture reader (pp. 190-203). Oxford.

Leach, H. (2001). Rehabilitating the “stinking herbe”: A case study of culinary prejudice. Gastronomica, 10-15.

Liu, F., & Liu, N. (2015). Human odorant reception in the common bed bug, Cimex lectularius. Scientific Reports, 5, 1-14.  Retrieved from:

Mauer, L., & El-Sohemy, A. (2012). Prevalence of cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) disliking among      different ethnocultural groups. Flavour, 1(8), 1-5.  McGee, H. (2010, April 13). Cilantro haters, it’s not your fault. New York Times, D1. Retrieved from :

Spence, C. (2015). Just how much of what we taste drives from the sense of smell? Flavour, 4(30), 1-10. Retrieved from: