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The Most Controversial Herb - Coriander

Author: Mirabel Zou

Editors: He-Hanson Xuan and Max Ye

Artist: Jennifer Hu

From Mexican guacamole to Vietnamese pho, coriander is a non-negotiable ingredient to bring a dish from good to great. Coriander, sometimes referred to as cilantro, is an herb in the Apiaceae family with distinct aroma and flavor. It is one of those things people either love or hate, causing opinion polarization. I’ve come to love coriander ever since I was young, but my sister does not share my sentiment. At first, I thought my sister was just being picky, but one day, I discovered that she’s not the only one. In actuality, 3%-21% of the population dislikes cilantro, often describing it as tasting “soapy.” Some of them even have an international ‘I Hate Coriander Day.’

In 2012, Nicolas Eriksson and his team explored this phenomenon. They gathered sample DNAs from more than 14,000 Caucasians who claimed to dislike coriander. The samples were genotyped, analyzed, and later compared to those who liked coriander. With that, they found a consistent difference in DNA sequence of the OR6A2 gene ‒ two separate variants of the same gene ‒ and concluded that this may be the key to the study. OR6A2 is one of the eight genes encoding for olfactory receptors in the brain, more specifically, how humans perceive a type of molecules known as aldehydes. Now, aldehydes are found in high concentrations in cilantro, but also in non-edible products such as soap, perfumes, and lotions. One of the most famous perfumes ever invented, Chanel No. 5, uses large amounts of synthetic aldehydes. Individuals with the less common version of the OR6A2 gene are extremely sensitive to the taste of aldehydes.

Culture and environment also play a role in one’s preference towards coriander. It was discovered that 21% of East Asians dislike coriander while merely 3% of South Asians, Hispanics and Middle Easterners dislike the herb. This can be attributed to different levels of exposure to coriander as it is very commonly found in some cultural cuisines. Additionally, individuals who dislike coriander are more commonly women.

Despite the genetic causation for the dislike of coriander, there are instances in which such preferences are reversible. It is proven that, if your brain always associates coriander with positive experiences such as a pleasant dinner at a Mexican restaurant with family and friends, your brain’s perception of food’s taste will change over time, even when you congenitally dislike it. Of course, this goes with any food, not just coriander. As a coriander lover, I cannot rave enough about how great it is.

Aside from the delicious fresh flavor it brings to a dish, coriander is also beneficial to our health. It provides people with microelements such as iron, magnesium, and manganese. It is a natural and potent antioxidant and diuretic, contributing to maintaining blood pressure and fighting off infections. The leaves of coriander even have an antibacterial effect against salmonella.

The next time you’re called out for being picky for taking out the coriander leaves in your meal, you can blame it all on genetics.

 

Citations:

“Cilantro Love and Hate: Is It a Genetic Trait?” 23andMe Blog, 22 Mar. 2021,

blog.23andme.com/23andme-research/cilantro-love-hate-genetic-trait/. Accessed 28 Jan.

2022.

‌Pochin, Courtney. “You’re Not Being Fussy If You Hate Coriander - There’s a Scientific

Reason Why.” Mirror, 24 Feb. 2021,

www.mirror.co.uk/news/weird-news/people-like-coriander-others-think-23557477.

Accessed 28 Jan. 2022.

‌​​“Love It or Hate It — the Great Cilantro Debate.” Cleveland Clinic, 27 Oct. 2020,

health.clevelandclinic.org/do-you-love-or-hate-cilantro-the-reason-may-surprise-you/.

Accessed 28 Jan. 2022.

‌Knowledgica. “Why Does Coriander / Cilantro Taste like Soap for Some People?” YouTube,

22 July 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=6x_vX-LMRSk. Accessed 28 Jan. 2022.

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