The Great Cilantro Divide

Written by Sabine Downer

Cilantro is a common herb that you can find in cuisines from all around the world. You’ll see it in Latin foods like street tacos and salsa, in the Vietnamese soup called “pho,” in Indian chutneys, and in African dishes like chermoula. While some people perceive the taste of cilantro as citrusy and bright, others will tell you it tastes like soap, mold, dirt, or bugs! So why is this herb so divisive?

How We Taste Cilantro

Mauer and El-Sohemy [1] explain that flavors are sensed by clusters of taste receptor cells on the tongue, palate, larynx, oropharynx, epiglottis and esophagus. From there, the information is sent to the brain where it is interpreted as flavors like bitter, sweet, salty, sour, and umami. In the brain, the flavor is compared to memories of other flavors. Genetics are known to influence perception of tastes and odors, and twins may inherit a preference or dislike of cilantro. The particular gene responsible for this has not yet been identified.

Ethnocultural Dislike for Cilantro

Mauer and El-Sohemy [1] found that among about 1,400 Canadian respondents, there wasn’t much difference between male and female dislike of cilantro, with 14% of women and 10% of men reporting that they dislike the taste. However, when looking at ethnocultural groups there were some significant differences. Middle Eastern (3%), Hispanic (4%), and South Asian (7%) groups had the lowest proportions of cilantro dislikers. They also had the highest numbers of people who like the taste of cilantro.

There were more people who had never tried cilantro when it came to East Asians (27%), Caucasians (16%), and individuals of African descent (31%). Likewise, it was found that these groups had the most people who dislike cilantro with 21% of East Asians, 17% of Caucasians, and 14% of African descent disliking the herb.

Why Do Certain People Dislike Cilantro?

The researchers propose that people from groups where cilantro is not used in cooking as frequently are more likely to dislike it. Genetic predisposition to dislike the taste of cilantro may be less common in places where cilantro is a common part of traditional cuisine. Those who dislike cilantro may lack the ability to smell the enjoyable aromas in cilantro; on the other hand, those who like cilantro may be blind to an unpleasant aroma.

While the exact reason why some people dislike cilantro has not yet been elucidated, you can rest assured that if you can’t stand cilantro you are not alone.

Image: restyledliving from Pixabay


  1. Mauer L, El-Sohemy A. Prevalence of cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) disliking among different ethnocultural groups. 2012;1(1). doi:10.1186/2044-7248-1-8. [Impact Factor: n/a; Times Cited: 19]

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Sabine Downer

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