Photo Courtesy of Stadum Girl on Flickr
“Do you have the cilantro gene?” I first heard that question asked last Sunday on the Beef Roll Crawl. One of the crawlers didn’t have any of the beef rolls because cilantro was the main filling and she simply could not eat it. I thought the question was a silly one because I know cilantro to be a strong taste, so people either love it or hate it, but what the heck did that have to do with a gene? Perhaps I understand this about cilantro so much because I have been told my entire life that I have a strong personality and I am used to people either loving or hating me. It’s strong, the eater picks a team, and then game over; there’s no need for genetics in this equation.
I am someone that has been on Team Cilantro since the age of 9 on. I was born and raised in Santa Cruz (where I am typing this post now) and there has always been an abundance of organic produce around in my own kitchen and in my community. I was always on the fruity side and grew up olallieberry and yellow plum picking, my attraction to vegetables took a little longer to develop. My favorite vegetable was, something that was actually a flower, the artichoke. Why would I eat a salad when there was such a fibrous, fun to eat and dip, plant that I got to clean and get to the heart of? However, when I was 9 there was an organic cafe for college students that opened up near UCSC on the Westside of Santa Cruz, that had a Chinese Chicken Salad that I fell in love with, it was the first salad I ever loved. It wasn’t the standard one that you may see at Americanized Chinese restaurants. This one had fresh grilled chicken, rice vinegar (my favorite), and fresh and crisp veggies. The first couple times I had this my mom asked for no cilantro for me, because the flavor was too strong. This is when I started to come to terms with obsession with food. I have never lived on the Westside of Santa Cruz and yet I would demand that my mom drive me there just for this salad. One time we called it in, picked it up, and when we opened up the bag I saw that my salad was covered in cilantro. Upon opening up the environmentally friendly salad box the aroma hit me first. I knew that my current favorite salad was not in it’s usually dressed form. I thought about picking it off but I left it on and that is when my love affair with cilantro began. It had the cleanest taste I have ever eaten and after that my life with food was greatly enhanced. My Jewish grandma was an avid cook that especially loved Asian and Indian food. I grew up thinking that Yan Can Cook was on every grandma’s bookshelf and never knew that most grandmothers stuck to meat and potatoes. My grandma was one of the most thoughtful people and never imposed her tastes on everyone else. Always on her table was her fat-free margarine and real butter; the choice was yours (at the time I always chose margarine because I thought it made her happy and because it was easier for me to spread on the fresh baked bread). My favorite dish that she made was always Indian chicken, she set up bowls and bowls with toppings so she wasn’t imposing and that the decision was my own. The spread on the table reminds me now of banchan that you will see at KBBQ places. In the beginning, I just threw on shredded coconut and golden raisins (Like Grace Adler, I still LOVE raisins in everything) and after my positive experience with cilantro that became the first topping I threw on. I can’t imagine my food life without cilantro as it enhances fish (ceviche), soup (pho), sandwiches (banh mi), tacos and curries beautifully and adds that extra element into the flavor profile. What if this herb, that I have come to love for it’s fresh and clean taste, tasted too clean (in a bad way) to many people? Apparently there is a huge portion of the population that think that cilantro tastes like soap and just can’t eat it. This is the so-called cilantro gene. After inquiring about this strange term and doing some online research, I am shocked.
Here is what I have learned:
*There are a ton of I Hate Cilantro websites, groups, and followers
*Dr. Wysocki, a behavioral neuroscientist, looked into the idea of the gene by interviewing twins at the Twins Day Festival. Here is what the WSJ reported:
More than 80% of the identical twins gave ratings similar to their siblings, while only 42% of the fraternal twins did — suggesting cilantro hatred may be a genetic trait. But Dr. Wysocki cautions that he hasn’t yet analyzed enough fraternal twins to draw a firm conclusion.”
Dr. Wysocki contends dislike of cilantro stems from its odor, not its taste. His hypothesis is that those who don’t like it are unable to detect chemicals in the leaf that are pleasing to those who like the herb.
*Julia Child refused to eat cilantro (CNN Interview)
*Cilantro haters seem to never get the “fantastically savory” smell that the cilantro lovers smell (NPR)
*This is totally my own observance, and may have to do with my group of friends, but I find that a lot of the cilantro haters are either Japanese or Filipino.
It seems as though the love or hatred of cilantro goes way beyond a simple taste preference. There is passion in this issue. Perhaps only one other herb stirs up more controversy than this, but there is no need to go there. So are you a cilantro lover or hater? If it’s a hatred that many people share, should restaurants be more mindful of this?