A new study seeking to better understand why some people have such a strong aversion to cilantro has identified two genetic variants linked to perception of the herb, the most common of which is a gene involved in sensing smells.
Nature reports that a genetic survey of nearly 30,000 people, led by Nicholas Eriksson at the consumer genetics firm 23andMe, asked participants whether or not cilantro tasted like soap and whether or not they liked it. The strongest-linked variant is traced to a cluster of olfactory-receptor genes that influence smell. One of those genes is OR6A2, which is very sensitive to the aldehyde chemicals that give cilantro its distinctive flavor.
Eriksson says that nearly half of all Europeans have two copies of this variant, and of those people, 15 percent reported a soapy taste. In contrast, 13 percent of Europeans had no copies, and 11.5 percent of this group said cilantro tasted like soap.
Speaking to NPR blog The Salt, Erikkson admitted that the genes don't tell the full story of cilantro aversion, saying "it didn't make a huge a difference in cilantro preference from person to person." The findings, he says, suggest that dislike of cilantro is only in part determined by genetics. Moreover, it's not something set in stone:
"It isn't like your height, that you're stuck with. People can change it," he says.
Another study examining cilantro aversion was also published last week in the journal Chemical Sciences, which compiled responses from 527 twins as to whether they thought fresh, chopped cilantro tastes and smells good. The scientists in that study found that three genes influence a person's perception of cilantro. Two were linked with tasting bitter foods and one with pungent flavors, like wasabi.
Nature offers cilantro pesto as a potential solution to cilantro haters wishing to change their preferences, citing a suggestion from food science writer Harold McGee in a 2010 article for the New York Times:
A Japanese study ... suggested that crushing the leaves will give leaf enzymes the chance to gradually convert the aldehydes into other substances with no aroma.