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.”