We Know (Some) People Hate Cilantro, but Why?

March 14, 2018

It’s not news that cilantro is divisive. By now, we know the drill: For some it’s grassy and spicy, for others it tastes like eating a bar of soap. Cilantro haters are a vocal bunch (an estimated 4-14% of the population), so against the herb that they can’t even bear the tiniest taste. And yet, do we know why?

The most cursory explanations boil it down to a genetic mutation, but is there more we have yet to understand? What exactly is a genetic mutation? What causes it and where does it exist? So many questions, so little time. If you, like me, are the inquisitive type, then look no further than this video explainer. It comes to us from PBS and their Reactions videos, a series that peels back the curtain on what we know, using a scientific lens. They break down the cilantro aversion on a chemical level, and what they find might surprise—or confuse—you. See for yourself:

So there you have it. There’s a lot of science talk, and it’s quite possible you’ve never heard of a single-nucleotide polymorphism or aldehydes before. That’s totally fine, I hadn’t either. It seems that a mutation on a gene found on the 11th chromosome might cause cilantro haters to experience certain alkanals, chemical compounds that carry scent, differently from the rest of us cilantro-loving folk. Why this manifests as distinctly soapy is still beyond scientists. At least now I can kind of explain what makes people hate the taste of cilantro so much. The lingo may be a bit over my head, but that’s what science is for, right?

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Valerio is a freelance food writer, editor, researcher and cook. He grew up in his parent's Italian restaurants covered in pizza flour and drinking a Shirley Temple a day. Since, he's worked as a cheesemonger in New York City and a paella instructor in Barcelona. He now lives in Berlin, Germany where he's most likely to be found eating shawarma.


CharlieV July 13, 2020
Cilantro is disgusting, for me it tastes like something incredibly stale and strong. The worst part is it’s staying power—if I accidentally eat some the taste will not go away. For hours I will be brushing my tongue, eating other foods, gargling, doing anything I can, but to no avail. That taste will not go away, not for about three days. I will go to bed that night and wake up the next morning with that disgusting taste on my tongue. So many places hide it in their salads and foods.
Susan O. June 7, 2019
Absolutely detest the stuff, although I've never really thought of it as tasting like soap. It just tastes awful to me. It's interesting that they mentioned parsley and celery, because those are two more things I dislike. I can eat celery if I have to (although I would NEVER buy it for myself), but parsley will ruin a dish almost as much as cilantro will. However, I love tons of other foods that many people don't like: tofu, rhubarb, Brussels sprouts, mayonnaise, olives, etc. Just can't stand cilantro, it will utterly ruin a dish for me.
Smaug June 8, 2019
Interestingly, the plants you mention are all members of the umbelliferae (carrot family), along with many others including dill, anise, chervil, fennel, caraway.
Anne B. April 5, 2019
Absolutely repugnant. My response to even the tiniest bit is revulsion.
FrugalCat January 9, 2019
My mom hates the stuff and as a result I was not exposed it until I was an adult. Now I love it.
Jon S. July 19, 2018
I wanted to bad to like cilantro. I have tried for always tastes like Palmolive dish soap. It makes me gag. It doesn't matter if it is stems or leaves. What is even more frustrating is when you go to a restaurant you've eaten at for more than a decade and someone in the kitchen randomly decided that every dish needed an absurd amount (like 4 cups) of cilantro.
Elaine Z. August 17, 2019
I’ve noticed restaurants doing this more too! I had to return a dish the first time in my life the other day. I ordered avocado toast and what they gave me was an avocado spread filled with a tonnn of cilantro. I really tried a couple bites but I just couldn’t do it. Then yesterday, I ordered a salad with skirt steak. They covered the steak with pico de gallo, which was heavy on the cilantro. Luckily I was able to scrape it off. /rant
Ana-Marie C. March 31, 2018
Saving the day, micro cilantro!!! Easy to use, none of the big stems, bit of a softer flavor. Will win over anyone who doesn't already love cilantro!

Abbie J. March 18, 2018
As a child and teen, I distinctly remember loathing cilantro and yes, it DID taste soapy to me. But somewhere around my 30's, I began loving the stuff and still do currently, in my 50's. Go figure.
A H. March 17, 2018
I love it. My spouse hates it.
Good to learn about the genetic sides of it.
Thanks Food52, I always love your newsletters!
Nancy March 16, 2018
Hate. It. Really can not tolerate even the tiniest amounts. I’m the only one in my family with this affliction as well, so they don’t understand at all. Thanks for the explanation!
bellw67 March 16, 2018
I don’t hate cilantro, I just don’t care for it. It doesn’t taste like soap to me and I leave it out when called for in a recipe or sub in parsley.
PHIL March 15, 2018
There is also the expression an "acquired taste" Sometimes the more you eat something the more you become familiar with it and enjoy it.
Jamie's F. March 15, 2018
It's too bad, cilantro is a favorite of mine! People either love or hate.
HalfPint March 15, 2018
Cilantro flavor is composed of alkanals (aldehyde compounds). Soap has a similar aldehyde structure on one end of its molecular chain. That's why cilantro can taste like soap.
ChefJune March 15, 2018
Sorry, but if you don't know why you must have been on another planet. Not meaning to be snarky, but it is generally well known that is a genetic thing for about 10% of the population.
Lord knows I've been trying to like it for more than THREE decades, but it still and always tastes like metalicky, soapy ugh. There are very few foods I don't "like." And yes, over time, I have grown to like some of them. But cilantro has been a constant no-go for as long as I can remember.
PHIL March 15, 2018
I think people's tastes can change over time. I have become a fan of it now but used to think it was soapy at first.
Smaug March 15, 2018
True enough- body chemistry can change too; there's a long list of foods that pregnant women tend to develop aversions to, but other physical conditions- including age- can induce changes.
Analida B. March 15, 2018
I love cilantro! Growing up in Panamá we use it in a lot of our Latin dishes. You have the have this to make recaito a base flavor for soups and black beans. I make big batches of recaito and freeze it into cubes. Here is my recipe for recaito:
kelly D. March 15, 2018
I also believe it is a hereditary trait, my dad, myself and my son are all cilantro dislikers due to the soapy flavor...
Panfusine March 15, 2018
Used to detest it as a child (frankly it was more the feeling of having the wilted leaves curl up around your tongue while slurping up Indian dishes), but can't live without it now..
Sarachka March 15, 2018
I used to hate cilantro and think it tasted like soap, but then in my twenties I suddenly loved it. It can't just be genetics. My genes didn't change.
animom.94 March 15, 2018
It could be that you have damaged some of your taste buds. An example is an older smoker that uses LOTS of hot sauce on food.
Sarachka March 15, 2018
I'm 100% sure that's not it. I'm a young non-smoker who doesn't use lots of hot sauce, and I can taste cilantro just fine. I know what it tastes like to me now, which is pretty much the same as how it tasted before, only now I like that flavor instead of hating it.
Cosa March 14, 2018
Soap? Ever crushed, or eaten, a stink bug when picking berries? The offensive smell they excrete is how cilantro smells and tastes to me. I really wish I could "get used to it" but it literally ruins a dish for me.
Scott L. July 14, 2018
the funny thing is the smell of stink bug reminds me of exactly cilantro and yet I love the smell and taste of cilantro.
Cilantro smells very unique compared to other herbs, but I like it anyway. Maybe I actually have the mutation that is supposed to dislike it, but I actually enjoy the soapy smell?