Here’s one of my pet peeves. This survey was linked from BoingBoing with the explanation that cilantro-haters have a genetic mutation that causes them to perceive the taste differently. The linked article claims, without a reference, that there is a study in identical twins showing that cilantro-hate is genetic. But the study being reported proved no such thing. It only showed that preference for or against cilantro varied by culture, which is no surprise as cilantro is an herb that has been used heavily in some cultural cuisines and not in others.
The study authors called cilantro “the most polarizing” food. I disagree that it’s polarizing. Actually, I think online cilantro-haters are a bunch of whiny assholes. Lots of people have foods they hate, and they can and do hate them passionately. Some people can’t bear the taste of onion. Some people hate the flavor of all vegetables. Some people hate coffee. Etc. Etc.
People who hate cilantro, however, are the only group that seems to think it is somehow special.
Now, it is remotely possible that there’s some chemical in cilantro that can be perceived by some people and not others, but I doubt it’s the case. People who hate cilantro say it tastes like soap or dirt, and I agree. Cilantro does taste like soap – enchantingly delicious soap. There’s is also an earthy, “dirty” taste to it. I like that, as well.
Nothing in the strength of people’s dislike for cilantro, or in the nature of their descriptions, suggests this is any different from not liking onions or garlic or coffee. Different strokes for different folks.
When we are babies, we come programmed for one basic taste: mother’s milk. As our parents introduce new foods to us, we mostly don’t like them at first. Check out a baby trying a new food for the first time. It invariably comes right back out with a highly amusing “ick” face. (Yes, I know that some babies like trying new foods.) Over time, as we’re exposed to foods again and again, the taste is gradually less off-putting until our brains finally figure out it is food and has nutrition in it. Then it crosses over from being something yucky to something delicious.
A lot of people don’t understand the process of developing a taste for a new food, and think if they hate it the first time they try it, they will always hate it. It’s just not true. This is why it’s best not to push vegetables onto little kids. It truly will make them gag and throw up if they go from zero to broccoli in one meal. But if they see it, see their parents eating it, and try it a time or two or fifteen, their brain will eventually stop objecting to the flavor.
I think most of this cilantro hate is just unfamiliarity. I can’t comment on the twin study, but I will note that separating identical twins in adoption went out of style in the 1950′s, so it’s unlikely that the twins in the study grew up in different homes, unless they are about 70. Twins probably tend to share preferences about cilantro, because, duh, same house same family.
None of this is to say that cilantro-haters, or haters of any other particular food, need to get over it. Far from it. We all have a right to our preferences. I don’t like capers! I never understood why those icky little sour things so frequently show up to spoil a perfectly nice sauce or whatever.
I just think people need to get over thinking they’re special if they don’t like cilantro. In fact, since cilantro comes from cuisines of Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia, and is gaining popularity rapidly in the U.S., the exceedingly vocal resistance to it strikes me as a little bit racist.