The September issue of National Geographic had a featurette on cilantro, an herb I never ate growing up, but is now part of our daily diet (whether we are eating South Asian, Latin American, or sometimes even American food).The article highlights the love it or hate it relationship most people have with the plant.
In fact upon further investigation, I happened upon an April 2o1o New York Times article titled “Cilantro Haters, Its Not Your Fault” which included this little anecdote:
In a television interview in 2002, Larry King asked [famous French chef] Julia Child which foods she hated. She responded: “Cilantro and arugula I don’t like at all. They’re both green herbs, they have kind of a dead taste to me.”
“So you would never order it?” Mr. King asked.
“Never,” she responded. “I would pick it out if I saw it and throw it on the floor.”
Ms. Child had plenty of company for her feelings about cilantro (arugula seems to be less offensive). The authoritative Oxford Companion to Food notes that the word “coriander” is said to derive from the Greek word for bedbug, that cilantro aroma “has been compared with the smell of bug-infested bedclothes” and that “Europeans often have difficulty in overcoming their initial aversion to this smell.” There’s an “I Hate Cilantro” Facebook page with hundreds of fans and an I Hate Cilantro blog.
Harsh! I wouldn’t ever even think of associating cilantro with bedbugs or bad smells!
I’ve heard this before, that (supposedly) genetically there are some people out there who don’t like the taste or smell of cilantro. According to National Geographic, haters describe the herb as “soapy” tasting, while lovers find it “citrus-y.” I was reminded of this over the weekend when P and I went camping with his geography program. For Saturday lunch we made burritos, including fresh chopped salsa with generous handfuls of minced cilantro. Several European American students cringed and grumbled about not liking cilantro, and whose idea it was to add so much… but that they would “deal” with the situation or skip the salsa.
Luckily I’m whole-heartedly in the lovers camp. I often put giant fistfuls of chopped cilantro in just about any Nepali dish I might cook, and sometimes I’ll even include it in salads or soups. I find it fresh and clean tasting (and thus surprised that Julia Child would describe the taste as “dead”), and for someone in the lover camp it is honestly hard to imagine why others would have such a strong distaste for something so delightful–unless they were genetically wired different ;)
So three cheers for cilantro from American-Nepali… and while you’re at it, check out the Gori Wife Life’s awesome post on making pakora (for which she also uses cilantro).