Cilantro is one of the most common herbs in the world.
But unlike any other, this little leaf is infamous for its polarizing love-it-hate-it reaction among foodies.
It's kind of like the Benedict Cumberbatch of taco toppings.
Today, we're taking a look at why such a poor, innocent leaf can stoke such vitriol from the cilantro-phobes among us.
This is Coriandrum sativum, an herb whose leaves we've come to know as cilantro, and whose seeds are used as a spice commonly called coriander.
Its love of warm weather lets it grow all over the world, with the largest exporter being Mexico.
So, it's no wonder you're going to find it on these.
This little plant also comes from the same family of aromatics as celery and parsley.
But unlike parsley, which is probably one of the most inoffensive plants out there, cilantro bears the burden of being one of the most divisive herbs known to humankind.
Lots of people love its aromatic quality, while others are totally repulsed by it.
Now, every person has a different taste in food.
But this "cilantroversy" is so distinct in the population that it has led scientists to ask whether there is an actual physical difference in cilantro haters.
It's been estimated that 4-14% of the population can't stand the taste of cilantro.
But here's where it gets interesting.
Among that group of haters is a subgroup who literally can't help but hate it.
They may have a genetic mutation that makes it so.
These folks describe the taste of cilantro as soapy or dirt-like, terms that have a bit to do with the kind of smell you get from raw fats, bugs, or cosmetics.
And for the rest of us taco lovers, I know it can seem like a huge disgrace.
But I'm here to tell you today not to blame your cilantro hating friend for their poor taste.
These are matters that might rest far outside their hands of control.
These haters may be coping with a small change in their DNA, called a single-nucleotide polymorphism, or SNP for short.
Cilantro haters tend to have a different version of a SNP in an area of chromosome 11 directly related to your sense of smell.
This region contains the genes for several odor detectors, and the culprit is thought to be OR6A2.
The rodent version of this gene is known to bind to a cilantro-abundant group of molecules called aldehydes.
And common mutations in the gene may change the way OR6A2 detects certain molecules in the aldehyde group, giving people with these genetic changes an altogether different cilantro experience than the rest of us.
Aldehydes are cilantro's primary odor-causing compounds.
Two compounds in this group, decanal and dodecanal, offer an earthy, sweet, green aroma.
But the center of the cilantroversy is found with the (E)-2-Alkenals, which give it that characteristically "soapy" taste.
That SNP mutation mentioned earlier may cause cilantro haters to experience these (E)-2-Alkenals differently than the rest of us, ultimately making them the dominant flavor of the plant.
But at this point, scientists still haven't discovered the exact mechanism behind this soapy phenomenon.
So, when people out there say they hate cilantro, now you know that it might not actually be their fault.
They may be genetically programmed to taste the stuff of soap!
What side of the cilantroversy are you on?
Let us know down in the comments.
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