For an herb, cilantro is very divisive. People either love it or can't stand the taste. Julia Child famously validated a hatred for cilantro in a 2002 interview with Larry King when she admitted she detested cilantro, saying it has a "dead taste" to her. Others say it leaves a soap-like aftertaste in their mouths, and some have even likened the taste to crushed bugs.
But there's more to a repulsion of cilantro than picky taste buds: it's biological.
It's in Your Genes
What's the deal behind this peculiar phenomenon? According to a genetic survey by researchers at Cornell University, there's a very specific gene that makes some people strongly dislike the taste of cilantro. After surveying nearly 30,000 people, the scientists singled it down to the OR6A2 gene. This gene "codes for the receptor that picks up the scent of aldehyde chemicals" — these chemicals are found in cilantro and soap, which is why many people anecdotally say cilantro tastes like soap.
How Many People Does This Affect?
It has been estimated a strong aversion to cilantro impacts anywhere from 4 to 14 percent of the general population, reports New York Daily News. This aversion is more commonly found in some races and ethnicities than others. A previous study found 21 percent of east Asians, 17 percent of people of European descent, and 14 percent of individuals of African ancestry to say they're not fans of cilantro. Meanwhile, only 3 percent of South Asians, Latin Americans, and Middle Eastern people felt the same way about the herb.
That's not to say you're genetically hard-wired to despise cilantro forever. According to Nicholas Eriksson, lead author of the aforementioned study, people can change their perception of cilantro. In an interview with The Salt, Eriksson recommends crushing the leaves before consumption (say, making a pesto of some kind), since breaking the herb will release enzymes that turn the soap-taste to something more mild.