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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