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:


  • Kara

    I love cilantro, but can’t stand ginger because that tastes like soap to me. Aren’t plants and herbs interesting, like whether you get asparagus-pee or not…. gotta love Mother Nature.

    • Wendl Ormsby

      I live in Mexico Norte (California) and just about every Mexican restaurant around here puts Cilantro in their food without asking if I would like the stuff. They do pay the price though, as I always ask for them to redo my plate sans the grass tasting shavings.

      • Ryan Partin

        @Wendi, that’s pretty self-centered of you to think that they should ask you about every seasoning and herb put into their dishes. How would they be able to exist if they had to poll every customer regarding every ingredient. Why don’t you just respect what goes into the dishes and not eat their Mexican food if you don’t like cilantro? And stating that “They do pay the price though…” what an a**hole statement to make. As if it’s you against them. They’re trying to run a business and offer a service. Imagine if every customer “made them pay the price” by sending back their dishes… pretty soon the place would be shut down and it’s entire staff would be jobless. Your thought process is all hosed up. People with your self-center, entitled mindset are what’s wrong with America these days.

        • Phil McRee

          Well put.

        • GaryO

          I agree. A restaurant will always make a dish, according to the recipe, unless a patron indicates a special need/request. How stupid one must be to go to a particular class of restaurants that tend to frequently use a particular ingredient when you hate the ingredient and do not ask that they omit the ingredient from your meal, prior to their preparing it. It’s almost like Wendi is looking for conflict.

      • Steve

        Wow. Mexican food has a 90% chance of having cilantro. Obviously you know that already. You should just ask about it, or stop eating it if you can’t handle asking a question.

      • Ben

        Did it ever occur to you to tell them “no cilantro” when you place your order?

        It’s one thing if you specifically ask for “no onions” or “no cilantro” and send back a dish because they got it wrong. It’s another thing entirely to order something and refuse to eat it because they didn’t make it the way you wanted but never had the courtesy to tell them…

      • indi

        Perhaps Wendi, knowing that most Mexican restaurants use cilantro, could simply request no cilantro when ordering her food. It’s what I do.

      • Freddie

        Way to go Wendi – I hadn’t thought of doing that! I have asked for no cilantro in my food, but they put it in there anyway. Next time the crap goes back or I don’t pay.

      • Bob

        Cilatro tastes like toes. Soapy toes.

    • dwindle

      Pickled ginger tastes a lot like furniture polish, which is probably why I like it.
      Everyone gets asparagus pee, but not everyone can smell it (it’s incredible strong to those who can).

  • karen4dfw

    I grew up in the Midwest and moved to Texas when I was a young adult. We didn’t have cilantro or guacamole and I didn’t like it at all when I moved however, I have grown to love both.

  • Colin

    I love cilantro, although I had heard of people hating it. One popular herb I really don’t care for is parsley. I don’t hate it enough for poetry, but it easily overpowers dishes I’ve made that call for it.

    • dwindle

      I don’t mind parsley, but it never seems to be a desirable taste to anything it’s put in.

      • Rosemary

        Spaghetti sauce based on parsley is delicious, but it’s black.

    • Emileelee

      That is very interesting because I think of parsley as such a mild, subtle flavor but cilantro very strong, pungent and harsh.

  • Linda Phillippi

    I have always observed that a lot of men intensely dislike cilantro versus women who seem to love it. I think that should be looked into.

    • Mitch

      Linda, that’s been my experience, too. I’m very interested in the gender percentages listed in the gray inset. Unfortunately, someone goofed up the numbers (57% of women say ‘soapy’ while….49% of women say ‘not soapy’; wait a second….), so it’s hard to know if that sample supports your contention or not. Editor? Anyone?

      • Jeff

        No, Mitch. Women are 49% of those who don’t think cilantro tastes soapy, and 57% of the group that does think it tastes soapy.

  • geepee

    Like any other food, you like it if you grew up eating it.

    • Mary

      I liked cilantro the first time I tasted it in my 30′s. HOWEVER, after two or three more encounters, I discovered that cilantro always “cleans my clock out.” Yuck. I now can’t even stand the smell of it.

    • ceeli

      Absolutely not true. I never tasted cilantro until I was in my 30′s. Actually, I smelled it first… it made me turn around right then and look for whatever that incredibly delicious smell was. I love love love it and would eat it more often except it’s a pain to pick the leaves off the stems and it goes bad quickly. I also adore it in guacamole, another thing I never ate growing up. I really can’t believe some people think it tastes like soap!

      • Marc

        You can eat the stems of cilantro. It is one of the few herbs you can.

    • dwindle

      I grew up Irish. I could name 30 things I grew up with, which I have no desire to eat again.
      Boiled chicken tops the list.

  • http://none Bill M

    I spent two years in the Peace Corps in the Andes in Ecuador.

    Every dish I ate for two years – anything I didn’t make personally – was seasoned with cilantro.

    Soap? Soap would have been welcome!

    I’ve sort of gotten used to the taste over the years…
    Probably like living at Love Canal.

    • Emileelee

      LOL. I feel for you. I’ve gotten used to the taste some too.

  • Emileelee

    I used to HATE cilantro with a passion. How could I not when it tastes like moldy soap? But I’ve developed a tolerance for it and actually like it in guacamole now.

    I am curious about genetics and goat cheese. That is one other taste that to me is nasty beyond words and tastes like mold/soap/mildew. I love trying lots of foods and flavors but I can’t fathom how people choke that nasty foul flavor down and even claim to like it.

    • glenn

      Love Love Love goat cheese…I would have feta cheese everyday if could afford it :-)..Oh, and love Cilantro also growing up in Texas. What is a good taco without Cilantro I ask you ?

  • T2

    I’ve always hated cilantro (soapy taste) but didn’t know it was a ‘thing’. Glad to find others out there.

  • Rick Reade

    I hate cilantro and never even heard of it until the last decade. I lived in Texas and New Mexico. Eat a lot
    of Tex-Mex and “Mexican” food. Cilantro was just never used until one day it seemed to be in everything
    and an ubiquitous ingredient in just about every TV food show. Where the h*ll did it come from? I can
    tolerate a tiny amount in salsa, but forget it in any normal quantity. Why is it in everything if so many
    people cannot tolerate it? I blame celebrity chefs for its pervasive use. It seems to have become a P.C.
    thing to put in food and I am not a P.C. kind of guy.

    • Rick.

      I don’t think you know what PC means.

      I lucked out in that I love cilantro and so does my wife. Great with garlic lime chicken.

  • Daniel Fuqua

    Cilantro tastes like used gym socks. My wife constantly asks, how I know what those taste like.

    But then I also think that lamb tastes about the same.

    • Neal16

      Lamb and cilantro could not taste any different. Not because you don’t like cilantro (unless you like the taste of gym socks) but I wonder if there isn’t something amiss with your taste buds.

      • rideac1

        I also have always thought cilantro and lamb have a similar taste. I don’t care for either.

  • karla

    I like it cooked.

    Raw it tastes like ammonia. If someone is cutting it while I’m there, I think “ooh what just died in here?”. But once it’s cooked I’m fine with it. Coriander seeds are great, too.

  • Cisco Kid

    I love cilantro! Imagine this: a taco with carne asada, pico de gallo sauce, cilantro and onions…hmmmmmm

  • Neal16

    What is all this comparison to soap!! Who eats soap that they would know what it tastes like? Washing the mouth out with soap for naughty children went out in the 40s (Like with “A Christmas Story”) I happen to really like cilantro. It appears to be a love or hate type herb. But tasting like soap? Please!

  • indi

    I’m not crazy about cilantro, but I really hate haiku. It is by far the worst form of poetry I could ever imagine.
    Haiku poetry
    not a single rhyme; only
    counting syllables
    Detestable!

  • Freddie

    Cilantro is the most disgusting, vile thing on Earth. I would rather eat dirt, dog poop or whatever. I hate it when it is put on or in anything. What really sucks is here in California, it seems to be in just about everything!

  • Matt Thomson from Canberra

    I love cilantro, but even if I detested it I would eat it due to its health benefits. Here in Australia we refer to cilantro leaf as coriander. Coriander is high in many vitamins and minerals, folic acid, 5-hydroxytryptophan, and is one of the highest natural sources of S-adenosyl-L-methionine. Because coriander is generally not cooked for long these chemicals are not denatured as they often are in other foods thus they remain active. Each of these on their own have been proven to reduce the feelings of guilt, but when combined like this they appear to have a far greater impact. What an amazing super food!

  • Irene

    Lol! It really tickles me to read some of these comments because I was unaware that people ate such odd things to describe “cilantro”! I’ve never tasted “dirty gym socks, poop, ammonia, soap, etc! So I can’t compare it to anything. I was NOT brought up with Cilantro in my meals and tasted it first in “pico de gallo” and loved it!! I felt dumb asking what the green stuff was in pico de gallo because I am HISPANIC!

  • Lara Croft

    It’s “AN SNP”, not “aaah SNP”…DUH.

  • Julie

    I wonder if my distaste for cilantro is related to my extreme distaste for asiago cheese. If they were the only two foods on Earth, I would pass them by in a heartbeat. Cannot stand either of them! Does anyone else have this link of cilantro & asiago?

  • James Walker

    I didn’t ever have cilantro growing up. I moved out and experimented in cooking and used it and loved it. The next time I saw my mother I asked her if she was aware of this amazing herb that she never used in all the years she was cooking for me. She told me she hated it. I thought it was just my mom being overly picky. Then I found out she isn’t alone in the hating cilantro club. I feel like I was robbed of cilantro for a huge chunk of my life. Today I had a baloney and cilantro sandwich, and despite being made from probably the lowest quality of Walmart meat, it tasted high class because of the cilantro. I’ve read a good deal of cilantro hate today, comparing it to soap and all sorts of things, I hope it hasn’t ruined it for me. I’ll find out tonight.

  • Julie Wallace

    This is so interesting to me. My degree is in nutrition and both in classes and outside of classes, I have been able to detect all ingredients and even percentages! I tested back with CG for bitter taste perception but here’s the thing: I love cilantro!! Broccoli is just OK and I hated Brussels’s sprouts until suddenly this year- I had a lb cooked the other day!!! Anyone else out there like me or am I just weird?

  • Susan Holden

    AG for cilantro typical odds of detecting soapy taste. I love cilantro !!!

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