Cilantro Love and Hate: Is it a Genetic Trait?

We’re blogging about the various research projects and discoveries 23andMe scientists are presenting in November at the annual American Society of Human Genetics meeting. This is the first in our series of posts. Check back for more as the meeting gets closer!

Hated, vile, foul herb;
One mere leaf destroys the meal.
Oh, to be tongueless!
by ItReallyIsAwful at ihatecilantro.com

For some people, dining out can be a minefield for the tastebuds. As once-Spittoon contributor Erin wrote, “For years I believed that every Mexican restaurant my family took me to had some kind of problem with their dishwashing machine. Why else would the food always taste like soap?”

It turns out that cilantro (also known as fresh coriander) was the culprit. One of the most widely used herbs in the world, it is also one of the most divisive. Many people have no idea that this leafy green herb can cause such repulsion, much to the chagrin of those who find it foul. To Erin, cilantro tastes like soap. To others, it can taste like stinkbugs, dirt, or — if they’re feeling really dramatic — anarchy, pure evil, or the plague.

Cilantro taste in 23andMe customers
Cilantro soapy-taste by ancestry

Ashkenazi Jewish 14.1%
Southern European 13.4%
Northern European 12.8%
African-American 9.2%
Latino 8.7%
East Asian 8.4%
South Asian 3.9%

Sex differences in cilantro taste perception

Female vs. Male
Tastes soapy 57% vs. 43%
Doesn’t taste soapy 49% vs. 51%

Coincidence? No!
Cilantro enters Europe.
Along with Black Death.
by Popmusicguy at ihatecilantro.com

Why do some people love cilantro, while others hate it with every fiber of their being? The environment or culture in which you grew up can matter — one study found that 14-21 percent of people of East Asian, African, and Caucasian ancestry disliked cilantro while only 3-7 percent of those who identified as South Asian, Hispanic, or Middle Eastern disliked it.

But clearly environment isn’t everything. Could genetic differences explain some of this love-hate trait?

We put the cilantro taste question to about 50,000 23andMe customers, asking whether they liked the taste of cilantro and whether they thought cilantro had a soapy taste. When we compared the DNA of the cilantro haters to the DNA of cilantro lovers, we found a SNP (or genetic variation) called rs72921001 to be associated with the trait in a subset of about 25,000 people with European ancestry. (About 13 percent of 23andMe customers with European ancestry answered that cilantro tastes soapy, and 26 percent dislike it.)

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People with the less common version of rs72921001 had lower odds of perceiving a soapy taste and of disliking the herb. This SNP is not directly tested by 23andMe’s DNA chip (it was inferred from nearby SNPs), so 23andMe customers can instead look at their results for rs7107418, which is highly correlated with rs72921001 in people of European descent.

It shouldn’t be surprising that this SNP is located near eight genes that code for olfactory receptors, biological sensors that detect chemicals in the air and in food. Humans have hundreds of these receptors, which send signals to our brains to produce what we recognize as aromas and flavors. But exactly how this works is complex and differs from person to person. The same chemical can be found in both appealing and unappealing places — cheese and body odor, for example. Conversely, the same ingredient — such as cilantro — can contain both pleasant and unpleasant chemicals. Whether stinky cheese and cilantro are delicious or disgusting depends on your particular perception of many different chemicals.

Soak your dirty feet
In lemon water and drink.
Tastes like cilantro.
by Sheri2names at ihatecilantro.com

Cilantro’s aromatic qualities primarily depend on a group of compounds known as aldehydes. One type of aldehyde has been described as being “fruity” and “green” and another type as being “soapy” and “pungent”. One of the eight genes near the SNP we identified codes for a receptor called OR6A2, which is known to detect aldehydes such as those found in cilantro.

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Although this finding provides evidence that genetic variation in olfactory receptors is involved in cilantro taste perception, common genetic variants explain only a very small part of the difference — a half percent — between 23andMe customers for this trait. This doesn’t mean that genetics can’t play a large role for a particular person (indeed, some people are “supertasters”, or may have specific genetic variations that cause them to detect or not detect certain smells and flavors), it just means that in general, genetics isn’t a huge part of why our tastes for cilantro differ.

One thing’s for sure — if you hate cilantro, you REALLY hate cilantro! Check out some of the passionate poetry people have written (some highlighted throughout this post) at ihatecilantro.com.

This finding is currently being reviewed for publication in a journal. You can read the manuscript we submitted on a pre-print server here.

Read more about our cilantro discovery at:






  • Tom

    Here is what I have to say about Cilantro. There are many sites on the internet that states that it chelates mercury, cadmium, lead and aluminum from the bones, brain, and the central nervous system. If this is true, then it seems to be a food worth eating.

    • Sonja

      Cilantro does have chelating effect. But if you’ve ever excperienced chelating effect, it is extremely unpleasant. Anxiety attacs, irritable bowel and bowel dumping syndrome, intermittent freezing and shivering, extreme nausea, weakness. It’s not something for the faint hearted. It’s not something to reccommend for people in a weakened condition, and has to be done very gradually and carefully.

      The article and most of the comments see only the big picture not the details. Like many others, I find cilantro smell and taste very unpleasant. I wouldn’t describe it as soapy, simply because I never tasted soap. Therefore the whole 23adnme survey was wasted on me as it failed my criteria by the step 1.

      Having stated that I find cilantro taste and smell utterly unpleasant, I have acted against my senses and tested eating cilantro. It is possible to get used to its taste, despite the initial dislike. In small amounts, it does not provoke anything. In larger amounts, as in cilantro pesto, it may set off a chelating reaction in susceptible individuals. I am also one those susceptible individuals, as I cannot detox heavy metals well.

      The chelation reaction due to cilantro pesto made me think that I dislike its smell and taste precisely because I am unable to tolerate its detoxifyng effect. I have three SNPs that give me an extraordinary ability to taste bitter, and genotypes in the CYP450 system that make me a poor detoxifyer. The ability to detect the bitter taste of poisons (natural or synthetic) compensates for my low detoxification, as I can avoid ingesting the bitter tasting stuff (natural or synthetic) that my liver won’t be able to detoxify.

      After having tested my reaction to cilantro, I came to the same conclusion. My repulsion to its smell is a signal that cilantro herb will make me feel ill – even if the end result (removal of heavy metals) – may be beneficial. Having tested this assumption, I may choose to ingest small amounts of cilantro for beneficial detoxifying effect, without provoking a major herxeimer’s reaction. Most people don’t test, just assume, and so do 23andme surveys. A scientific survey needs to be more accurately described and designed to be efficient.

  • Julie

    It says I shouldn’t like it but it’s one of my favorite spices.

  • Dan

    @Julie

    One of my favorite herbs. I grow tons of it out on the patio. Yet, I too carry the SNP correlating to the “soapy taste”; however, I don’t perceive cilantro as “soapy.”

  • Judith

    Ah! I’m so glad to find company in my intense aversion to raw cilantro leaves!!! When I order a meal in Mexican or Asian restaurants, I’ve gotten to the point of interrogating the server and sending them to FIND OUT FIRST whether my food will be contaminated with this nasty poison.

    Curiously, I discovered at a Thai restaurant that my hot soup loaded with cilantro was not a such a great problem as long as the cilantro was fully cooked. The raw cilantro scattered on top of the soup was the major problem. I spent quite a long while sieving through the soup bowl removing the leaves, missed a few cooked bits, but was able to finally enjoy the dish.

  • Elizabeth

    I am GG, and I can’t eat cilantro. I used to think that the restaurants weren’t rinsing their dishes properly. It tastes like soap to me.

  • Amanda

    AG and it tastes like soap to me! Gag!

  • Paula Wolfe

    I am AA and hate cilantro but I am also wondering whether there is a similar genetic link to green peppers. It also seems to be a love them or hate them thing. I’ve had more restaurant meals spoiled by an unsuspected pepper.

    • Mammy

      I’m with Paula, cilantro and green peppers. gah… Red, yellow and orange, OK, but the green ones, just the smell makes me cringe.

  • Mara Nix

    For years I thought I was going crazy becuase I was the only one in my family who thought cilantro tastes like soap! To me, it tastes like a wierd mixture of soap and rotten lettuce. I despise the stuff. Thank you, 23andme, for proving I am NOT crazy!

    • Brad

      My reaction exactly! When it’s used sparingly, it’s like soap and fresh-cut grass. The grassy taste comes first, then, about a second later, that nasty soap taste. But sometimes it’s not a neutral grassy taste — it’s that compost smell you mention. Oddly my brother loves the stuff — says it tastes like parsley, but includes both a citrus-type flavor and a deeper savory note. I can’t taste either of those components, or even a parsley-like flavor.

  • Nanobot

    I think there are more genes involved in this scenario that have yet to be determined. I don’t recall ever detecting a soapy taste in cilantro even though I am AA. I actually like the taste of cilantro as well as coriander. Also, I am CC for the “supertaster” even though I have never had a problem detecting bitterness in greens. I will say that I have noticed my taste has changed as I have gotten older and depending on where I have lived. I think it’s too early in our understanding of the interactions between genes and the environment to hint at conclusive evidence for anything, especially considering the complexities of biology.

  • Tatiana

    I used to hate it, and I fall in the “cilantro-tastes-like-stinkbugs” category.
    However, over time I’ve grown to love the flavor. It still tastes the same to me, I just don’t hate it anymore.

  • J Wahlster

    I answered that I was not sure, thinking there would be a comment area. Here it is!
    The first time I tasted ciiantro, I thought the restaurant had not cleaned a cast iron skills. Not soap, just dirty iron. I like it now that I know it’s not dirty pan.

  • thomas

    I think Cilantro and Arugula are two of the vilest substances on the planet. Even a tiny bit will not only ruin a dish, but make me sick to my stomach. I can’t even stand the smell if my next door neighbors are chopping it up for a salad. My results for that gene are AA, and my mother agrees with me on how disgusting cilantro is (she doesn’t know what arugula is). Fortunately, many restaurants are now listing on their menus which items are putrified with this awful weed.

  • http://wildcelticrose.net L. Lisa Lawrence

    can’t stand the stuff (I also have issue with over use of Basil)

    one more interesting thing to check out when my results come back :)

  • G. M. Rice

    When I was young, let’s say about 25 years ago, I too, thought cilantro was soapy tasting. Now, I can’t live without it, and always have it on hand. Genetics….well, I was adopted, so I’m not sure.

  • Bob

    Having a genetic predisposition to Cilantro/Coriander hate, if the percentages shown above are correct, I love the stuff. Never thought it tasted ‘soapy’. Adore it in Mexican, Indian and Thai food. The more the merrier!

  • Sue Ann

    Remember when Mom used to threaten to wash your mouth out with soap? Might as well have threatened me with cilantro. It tastes just like Ivory. If I forget to ask and get a dish contaminated with it in a restaurant, I can’t take a bite until I’ve removed every particle. OTOH, Thomas, I can’t get enough arugula.

  • J.

    Funny, I’ve been wondering the same thing ever since I first tasted cilantro almost 40 years ago, i.e., is the world divided between people who taste it differently? Initially, and for many years after, I thought it tasted almost metallic, and definitely not good. And I’m not one of those picky eaters with what I call a “child’s palate”. About the only foods I don’t like are liver and uni (raw sea urchin). But after living in the West and Southwest for decades and repeated exposure, I’ve developed a taste, or at least tolerance, for cilantro when it’s used in moderation, and even add it to my own salsa recipe. Coriander’s another matter entirely; I don’t think it tastes anything like cilantro.

  • Stephanie

    I had never (knowingly) had it until I was about 24, when I watched a friend make a “mexican-style” casserole. When I tasted it, it was like a bell went off and I realized all those years what made some asian/mexican restaurant food taste like they didn’t get all the lemon soap off the plates! However, I now LOVE cilantro, and it tastes like green/bitter/brightness that works so well in asian and south american cuisine. I see that I was genetically likely to dislike it and, as at I did at first, but being adopted, I guess it only reinforces my belief in nurture over nature!

  • Daniel

    To me, it tastes like dirty socks smell, but then I say the same thing about lamb.

  • marc

    Any explanation for taste changing (as one ages I presume)??? As a kid I hated this stuff. Soap doesn’t do it justice. I thought it was pungent and poisonous. Now as am much older approaching 50 this stuff doesn’t taste bad at all. And I heard it has antibiotic properties so I probably overdose on the stuff when I go to a Vietnamese restaurant. Can genetics explain a change from hate to love?

    • ScottH

      The change in your taste preference has more to do with aging than genetics. As you age your ability to smell and taste changes, become a little less sensitive. So what was once pungent becomes less so over time.

  • linda

    I love this herb!!!!!!! By the way , this herb helps remove toxic heavy metals out of the body big time! Mix a bunch of this chopped herb with lime juice, a bit of salt. a dash of habanero hot sauce and a splash of maple syrup to cut the lime edge and you have the most fabulous condiment for fish, chicken or samosas. Yum

    • redz

      stealing this! :)

  • Blair

    Sometimes I like it, sometimes it’s unpleasant. Not really “soapy”, just tastes foul in some dishes like something rotten. I find in most asian or latin dishes it tastes good or at least OK. I’ve had it raw as a garnish on plain asian dumpling and it tasted fine. In other dishes, it can be repulsive. I can’t smell stink bugs so I can’t compare it to that – which may be related to my basic liking for the herb.

  • Melanie

    I hate it! It’s terrible! Why can’t restaurants leave it on the side so we have a choice? I’ve stopped going to many restaurants because of this terrible weed.

  • Michael

    Interestingly, I did not care for the taste of cilantro when I had it with Mexican food, but I loved it with Thai food. Once I realized that I liked with Thai, I taught myself to enjoy it with other cuisines, including Mexican. I don’t like a heavy hand with cilantro, but I find its distinct flavor to be quite tasty with many ethnic foods now.

    I also remember how the Food Network “chefs” went wild over cilantro a few years ago when the herb was so trendy. They added huge amounts to, seemingly, everything from hamburgers to brownies. I can definitely live without the cilantro hype, but I did enjoy two fish tacos for lunch today that were sprinkled liberally with chopped cilantro leaves.

  • Myra

    In my case, my genotype GG (Myra GG ~ Slightly lower odds of detecting a soapy taste in cilantro) is very “off”. I hate cilantro!! It ruins the food. The first irst time I tasted it in a salad I thought someone poisoned the food, or just poured soap on it. I could not eat the salad. So, there must be other factors involved. I am Ashkenazi Jewish.

  • redz

    I never knew cilantro existed till I moved to TX where it’s used liberally! Thankfully I’m a GG so I do like it, but here’s what I have discovered thru personal experience: if used correctly, and in the right amounts, it’s great – it can make a huge difference in a dish. But if TOO MUCH is used, then yeah, it can make even the best dish taste like crap. It’s getting that perfect balance that makes a dish all that much more delectable, IMHO.

  • steve

    I used to think cilantro tasted like soap and refused to eat it and picked it out of everything. Now I love it, and when my GF picks it out of her food I add it to my dish. I have no idea how the change came about. Also, when cooked, my GF likes the flavor it adds to the dish.

  • Dianne C

    Don’t hate it but it makes me cough.

  • Carrie

    Lol this cracks me up. I think cilantro is just an acquired taste. I grew up in the Northeast US and the first time I tasted the herb I was completely grossed out. Flash forward five years and having traveled extensively in S. America, I now LOVE cilantro. I feel like they’re a lot like tomatoes or peppers, when you taste them for the first time (usually as a kid), you don’t like them, but after continued exposure you grow to love them.

  • Scott

    I like cilantro. If you want to have some fun put a handfull in some ready hot water. The smell will be so strong that you will need to leave your house!

  • Don N

    The first time I tasted cilantro I was immediately reminded of the first (and 0nly) time I put a penney in my mouth. UGH!!

  • Aten

    I hate cilantro because I have an allergic reaction when I eat it. I have a wide variety of other allergies too, so it isn’t only cilantro. Oddly enough, cilantro has such a distinct taste that I recognize it immediately. It seems possible that the allergic reaction is mental because I dislike the taste of cilantro. I’m not sure, but if I taste cilantro in my food, I’ll have a mild yet uncomfortable allergic reaction. I don’t eat anything with cilantro in it anymore because it ruins my meal and the rest of my day.

    It’s interesting though, I have minor allergic reactions to other things too, but because I enjoy the tastes of these other things, I do not avoid them with nearly as much fervor. Strange stuff.

  • Rachel

    My parents are from The Netherlands and my entire life I have hated cilantro. I’ve always felt it has ruined any food it’s in. This article was an eye-opener for me. Maybe I have the rs72921001 gene in my DNA…it would certainly make sense,

  • Jane

    I simply adore cilantro (and interestingly my parents are from the Netherlands, too). On the other hand, beets taste just like dirt to me.

  • Sharon Rieder

    I also dislike cilantro…..but I absolutely love arugula…….almost crave it.

    • d.

      Love arugula too! Am AA and despise cilantro. However, even I recognize that salsa needs a leaf or two to taste right.

  • George

    FInally, redemption! For years I’ve been telling my wife, friends, interested/dis-interested passers-by, about how cilantro always tasted like soap, always, no matter where we had it.

    Now, I have scientific evidence to back up my claim!

    Thank you 23-and-me!

  • DW

    I HATED Cilantro vehemently for years. For the past year or so, every time I eat Cilantro, it becomes more tolerable. Are my taste buds starting to fail me OR is it possible that my tastes have actually changed?

  • Melanie Blank

    Very interesting! I am an Extreme Cilantro Hater!!!! I used to be able to tolerate very small amounts of coriander seeds, but now even those bother me. I’m a female of Ashkenazi Jewish background, which isn’t surprising according to the research you cited. I otherwise adore the cuisines that tend to use the vile stuff, so I have to be sure to politely “interrogate” waiters/waitresses in Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, Mexican, etc. restaurants to make it very clear that I don’t want any Dreaded C anywhere near my food. If it can’t be left out, I will select something else. I’ve had no issues with this request.

    Give me plain ole parsley any time. I actually like strong spices and herbs – just no Dreaded C. I love arugula, broccoli, and some other veggies many people don’t like.

    To the person who said salsa must have cilantro in it – wrong! PACE makes very good commercial salsa, and I don’t think there’s any cilantro in it.

  • Steve

    The only time I would accept the taste of raw cilantro is if it is served in a taco al pastor with raw onion. In fact, I would have it no other way when I order such tacos. On anything else, I vehemently despise it.

  • Grant

    No, no, no! There ARE no genetic traits. If there were, that might explain why so many Native Americans are alcoholics, African Americans are violent, and Asian Americans excel in academia… and we all know that THAT’S not true.

  • Estee

    Ew. I’m a hater for sure. It’s so bad that I tell people I’m allergic to it so there’s no risk of it ending up in my food. Big problem for me is when my husband eats it. Let me just say that there’s no romance until that crap is out of his system. Gives him the WORST breath (to me).

  • LGarner

    I love cilantro and sometimes actually crave it. I’ve even munched on it while in line at the grocers. When a friend of mine told me years ago that she hated it and it tasted like soap, I thought she was nuts. Nope… not nuts at all.

  • Mike Haskell

    This is a very interesting discussion, as one that grew up with parents on a farm in California who simply made me eat whatever was on the plate regardless of whether I liked it or not, I learned to enjoy a very wide range of foods including cilantro. What I have found is that people who don’t like certain foods such as cilantro, often will complain about other foods such as avocados, mushrooms, chiles, lamb, and fish or shellfish, describing them as horrible or vile or other such terms, where as people that grew up in a culture where this is simply part of the diet and gratefully except them and enjoy them. By way in regards to a previous post cilantro is coriander

  • Hoyt

    Neat article!

    My initial reaction to raw cilantro, many years ago, was “soap… but with something nice”. I began adding it to salsa a small pinch at a time to tune out the soap while getting a hint of “something nice”, and found that it grew on me. Eventually, a bowl of salsa had a handful of chopped salsa, and was disappointing without it. Today I use cilantro at the level of a vegetable, not a spice.

    Strangely, raw shaved ginger — as served with sashimi — has a mega-dose of that same soap-ish flavor for me. But I won’t touch the stuff.

  • analyst1

    For me it is not a question of using cilantro or not. It is a question of which food should be garnished with either cilantro or parsley, and garnishing with both of the herbs together is a sunami-disaster in the making.

  • analyst1

    Everybody’s taste bud is different. Sometimes it becomes a group decision among my friends where to dine out. The choice and consensus of selecting oriental dining or mexican diining or Italian dining varies among individuals.

  • dgish

    I’ve heard that licorice affects people the same way — you love it or you hate it and genetics seems to play a part. Personally, I like licorice as well as cilantro. I’d be interested to know if there’s any statistical correlation between licorice and cilantro preferences, e.g., my wife likes cilantro but not licorice. Same with all of my daughters (who always generously shared their black jellybeans with me.) My grandson, on the other hand, likes it.

    A little cilantro goes a long way, as a friend of mine discovered. One year he rented a garden plot on the other side of town and planted some cilantro. When it was grown he harvested the whole lot and drove home with it in the back of his car. The aroma was so overpowering that as soon as he arrived he threw it all right in the trash.

  • Jeff

    I think it does have a soapy taste, but I like it, really like it.

  • Fern

    Ground coriander smells like armpits to me, but I like it on foods. I love cilantro. Could you do the same bit of research for cloves…cloves sends MY WHOLE BODY into ew-yucky heebbie jeebies…

  • Wanda

    I didn’t have any problems with cilantro or coriander, which are from the same plant, until I was in my mid 40′s. Then, I started noticing a soapy taste and soon after, I became very allergic to it. I now carry an
    epi-pen. Be careful, if it has a soapy taste to it, because I think it could be the start of an allergy.

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