For the Love of Cilantro

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).


10 responses to “For the Love of Cilantro

  1. I agree! Totally on the lovers side!!

  2. I’m one of those who absolutely HATES cilantro. It tastes like I’m eating soap…and I can taste it if there’s just the tiniest bit in something. Years ago, I grew it in my herb garden before I knew I hated it, and I ended up digging the entire plant up and throwing in the garage because I just couldn’t stand the smell of it.

    My husband, on the other hand, loves it and will eat it on just about everything. The good news is, he doesn’t mind if it’s just tossed on top of whatever he’s eating, so it’s simple to keep us both happy by just adding a handful to his plate. I did relent and grow it for him this year…but it’s way on the edge of my garden where I won’t smell it.

    • Oh Kathleen… so sad. But it’s true– people love it or hate it… there is really no in between! But I like the food compromise between you and your husband ;)

  3. I crossed over! I swear, I used to hate the stuff. Perhaps it was just exposure therapy? But now I find myself thinking, “if one handful is good, two would be better!”

  4. Mmmmmm Just the sound of Cilantro makes my mouth water! Sorry if you hate it!

  5. I LOOOOOOOOVE me some cilantro….

  6. I remember reading that NY Times article as well. Substitute parsley for cilantro and I would be in total agreement. I love cilantro but can’t stand parsley. Am I the only one with this genetic kink?

    • No– P feels the exact same way. He can’t stand parsley, although he eats if from time to time without realizing it. He also says it has a bad smell… I like them equally though.

  7. Yesterday one of my friend forwarded me this email. It is related to Parsley and Cilantro… and benefits of eating those…


    Years pass by and our kidneys are filtering the blood by removing salt, poison and any unwanted entering our body. With time, the salt accumulates and this needs to undergo cleaning treatments and how are we going to overcome this?

    It is very easy, first take a bunch of parsley (MALLI Leaves) KOTHIMBIR (DHANIYA)and wash it clean

    Then cut it in small pieces and put it in a pot and pour clean water and boil it for ten minutes and let it cool down and then filter it and pour in a clean bottle and keep it inside refrigerator to cool.

    Drink one glass daily and you will notice all salt and other accumulated poison coming out of your kidney by urination also you will be able to notice the difference which you never felt before.

    Parsley is known as best cleaning treatment for kidneys and it is natural! “

  8. I have a coworker who the gene (or is it lack of a gene?) that causes cilantro to taste soap-y. We’ve actually done a smell-test at the office once, and she couldn’t reliably distinguish between the taste of cilantro and the taste of the a tab of the office hand soap in a small portion of chicken soap, while the rest of us could taste the difference. It was really odd – makes me think back on some philosophy of mind texts I read in undergrad on how we can know if what I see as red is like what you see as red.

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