The Genetics of Cilantro Taste Preference

Editor’s note: Pending an FDA decision, 23andMe no longer offers new customers access to health reports referred to in this post. Customers who received their health information prior to November 22, 2013 will still be able to see their health reports, but those who purchased after that time will only have access to ancestry information as well as access to their uninterpreted raw data. These new customers may receive health reports in the future dependent on FDA marketing authorization.

It isn’t just our political persuasions that divide us but our cilantro affiliations too.

And it turns out that whether we like the herb or hate it has something to do with genetics, as we’ve blogged about before.

Last week, the online peer-reviewed journal Flavour published our research paper on a genetic association with cilantro preference. We presented a poster with much of this at the annual meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics in early November.

In the largest genome-wide association study of cilantro taste preference to date, 23andMe scientists compared genetic data from individuals with European ancestry who said they liked fresh cilantro to those who didn’t, along with data from people who could or couldn’t detect a soapy taste in cilantro. We found a genetic variant near the gene OR6A2 associated with thinking cilantro tasted like soap.

This finding isn’t going to solve the problem of people plagued by the “devil herb” from having to pick cilantro out of their guacamole, but it does tell us much more about the genetics around taste perception.

In this case, this variant lies within a cluster of olfactory receptor (“smell”) genes on chromosome 11. About 80 percent of what we perceive as taste actually comes from smell and the gene OR6A2 is involved in detecting organic compounds known as aldehydes that give cilantro its characteristic flavor. These same odor compounds have been described as being pungent and “soapy.”






  • Always Learning

    Hi 23andMe! I just found you for the first time tonight. My husband and I both grew up in SW USA (Not California) and both always loved Mexican culture and food. We are Mexican food fanatics. Neither of us ever experienced any cilantro in our food until about the late 1980s when what we called “The Californians” traveled east to invest in SW restaurants and brought their “more gourmet” tastes with them. (We prefer our Mexican food to be the simple inexpensive homemade kind found in little nondescript cafes.) Nothing wrong with “The Californians’ food; it just wasn’t what either of us grew up with or preferred. We each hated cilantro immediately and both found the “woodsy earthen” flavor overpowering and ruining our favorite dishes. Little did we realize that this might all have to do with genetics rather than what we had grown up with. We are both typical Americans – in other words we are Heinz-57 assortment of various heritages. We were born & raised in separate SW states and didn’t meet until college. One of us descends from Western European, the other from Scandinavian countries. As we are so different in backgrounds, with the exception of the simple non-cilantro Mexican food tradition, we both have assumed our tastes were the result of experience and not our genes. Other than the cilantro, we’ve never simultaneously experienced such a profound dislike of any “new” food item before, and it has been the source of more spirited discussions with other Mexican food aficionados than any other topic! This is obviously a very important subject to us and this article will be shared with many. Thank you so much for this information!

  • Joe

    Any link between cilantro and patchouli? I find them both repugnant even in tiny doses.

    • Douglas Smith

      I used to think Cilantro tasted soapy, even tho I liked it. What if you like soapy flavors :-)

  • Aurora

    I love cilantro but I can’t eat the oregano I grow on my front porch because of its soapy flavor. Guess it’s not all in my head after all.

  • AMEWzing

    I mentioned the cilantro study to my mother-in-law, and she brought up a couple interesting points. Being from mixed heritage, she wondered what determines which heritage would most influence an affinity for or an abhorrence for cilantro? My mother-in-law likes cilantro, while her sister did not. Isn’t the evidence rather inconclusive since families were not the subjects of the study?

Return to top