Why Cilantro Tastes Like Soap to Some People

Why Cilantro Tastes Like Soap to Some People


Cilantro, sometimes called Chinese parsley or coriander leaf, is an herb from the Coriandrum sativum plant. The plant has been used for culinary and medicinal purposes for centuries. Traditionally, people have consumed the seeds to relieve pain and inflammation, but several parts of the plant have been linked to various health benefits.

The Coriandrum sativum plant is rich in bioactive phytochemicals that play a role in several biological activities, offering antioxidant, neuroprotective, migraine-relieving, hypoglycemic, hypotensive, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory properties.

Cilantro is a versatile ingredient that elevates the flavor profile of many culinary creations, including salsa, soups, guacamole, and chutney. For most people, cilantro adds a pleasant citrus taste to their meals, but some people dislike the herb. A small percentage of individuals find that cilantro tastes like soap—an unappealing flavor in any meal.

It’s not completely known why cilantro tastes like soap for some people, but research indicates a genetic trait might be the cause. If you’re one of the few who taste soap when eating cilantro, there are alternative herbs and flavorings you can try.

Most people enjoy or don’t significantly notice the taste of cilantro. However, a small percentage of the population thinks the herb tastes like soap. Research has found that approximately 4-14% of the population dislikes cilantro because they think it tastes like bath soap.

An older study examined the ethnocultural prevalence of cilantro dislike in 1,639 people. The study found the amount of people who dislike cilantro in each ethnocultural group varied across the different groups. Within each group, 21% of East Asians, 17% of Caucasians, 14% of Africans, 7% of South Asians, 4% of Hispanics, and 3% of the Middle Eastern group did not like the taste of cilantro.

Unfortunately, more recent research that provides insight into ethnocultural influences on cilantro taste is limited. However, that hasn’t prevented researchers from exploring what causes cilantro to taste like soap.

There’s no denying the cilantro-soap phenomenon, and some researchers have found a potential scientific reason for the taste difference. The soapy taste many people experience when eating cilantro likely stems from genetic susceptibility. Scientists discovered that most people who dislike cilantro share a common olfactory receptor gene called OR6A2, which is responsible for absorbing the odor of aldehyde chemicals found in coriander.

Aldehydes are organic compounds that typically have pleasant odors. However, variations of the OR6A2 genes can alter your sensitivity to cilantro’s aldehydes and your overall perception of its flavor. People who dislike the taste of cilantro are typically sensitive to unsaturated aldehydes. Meanwhile, people who cannot detect the aromatic chemicals aren’t affected in the same way.

The distinct contrast in cilantro experiences highlights the interplay between genetics and sensory effects. A person’s genetics can significantly influence their perception of taste and ultimately affect their dietary preferences.

If you taste hints of soap when eating cilantro, it’s likely due to genetic factors, and unfortunately, there is no direct way to change your taste perception. However, you might be able to gradually desensitize your tastebuds by exposing your palate to small amounts of cilantro at a time. While not scientifically proven, the exposure may help you adapt and become more accustomed to the cilantro taste.

You might also opt for dishes that use cilantro in minimalistic ways. Eating cuisines that prioritize other flavors can help minimize cilantro’s prominence and encourage tolerance at meal times. If these techniques don’t improve your cilantro experience, try using different herbs, spices, and citrus fruits as substitutes.

Cilantro boasts an impressive nutrition profile. It’s low in calories and contains many essential micronutrients. However, people who taste soap when eating cilantro don’t have to forgo these nutrients when cooking. Several cilantro alternatives offer similar nutrition and can enhance the flavor profile of a meal without the sudsy flavor. These include:

  • Parsley: Parsley, from the Petroselinum sativum plant, is a bright green leafy herb with a fresh, peppery, and sometimes bitter taste. It lacks cilantro’s citrusy undertones, so you may need to add a splash of lemon juice to mimic the flavor. Parsley works well in meat dishes, sales, pasta, sauces, and fresh vegetables. It may offer various health benefits, including antidepressant effects to help treat depression and anxiety.
  • Fresh dill: Fresh dill, from the Anethum graveolens L. plant, gives off an earthy and citrusy aroma. Like cilantro, it’s considered a medicinal herb. It’s a good source of antioxidants and may help lower LDL cholesterol. However, dill has a very strong flavor, so you likely need less of it than you would cilantro. Dill pairs well with soups, creamy dips, sauces, and salad dressings.
  • Thai basil: There are several basil varieties, but Thai basil can be an excellent substitute for cilantro. The herb has hints of spice and licorice. It makes a great addition to salads, curries, and stir-fry dishes and boasts many medicinal properties. Bioactive antioxidant compounds found in Thai basil may help prevent some cancers, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
  • Lemon or lime juice: Cilantro offers a hint of citrus flavor for most people. If a recipe calls for a citrus influence, lemon or lime juice can replace cilantro. Citrus fruits like lemons and limes are a good source of vitamin C, which can benefit health in several ways, like protecting heart health and boosting immunity.

Cooking with new herbs and spices may require some trial and error to find a blend that suits your taste buds. Still, incorporating cilantro alternatives can be an exciting way to put an individualized spin on an established recipe and find new favorite combinations.

Cilantro is a versatile herb that has been used for culinary and medicinal purposes since ancient times. It has been linked to various health benefits, including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-microbial properties, and its bold flavor makes it a staple ingredient in many recipes.

However, while cilantro offers a refreshing citrusy taste for most people, research shows up to 14% of the population find the herb tastes like soap. People who have the olfactory receptor gene OR6A2 are more likely to dislike cilantro and experience a soapy taste when biting into the herb.

If you experience an unpleasant taste with cilantro, you can rely on various alternatives when cooking. Parsley, Thai basil, and fresh dill offer a comparable herb taste, and lemon and lime juice can provide a burst of citrus flavor.

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