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Friday, April 16 2010
I have never really understood the extreme food aversion that is cilantro hatred, but there are scores of people who simply cannot stand to eat (or even smell) the leafy herb.

 

If you've never personally encountered cilantro hatred in the flesh, check out the “I Hate Cilantro” Facebook page, bancilantro.com, or the I Hate Cilantro blog where anti-cilantroists publicly share their disgust. Most complain that cilantro has a soapy smell and/or taste that makes it repulsive.

Harold McGee, the always elucidating writer on food and science, sheds some light on the anti-cilantro phenomenon in the pages of today's New York Times.

McGee explains that certain fragments of fat molecules called aldehydes are responsible for creating the aroma of cilantro. And, it seems those same aldehydes are a byproduct of the process of producing soaps. Aldehydes are also made by some insects as a repellent. So, there is some scientific truth to the claim that cilantro tastes "soapy."

However, we don't all experience cilantro this way. In fact, I just had some sprinkled on a taco over the weekend at the Mar Vista farmers market in Los Angeles, and it was a perfectly delicious and soap-free gastronomical experience.

It turns out that the way the brain perceives smells and flavors may predispose someone to reject the aldehydes in cilantro just as they would if they were presented with a plateful of soap.

"When we taste a food, the brain searches its memory to find a pattern from past experience that the flavor belongs to. Then it uses that pattern to create a perception of flavor, including an evaluation of its desirability," writes McGee. "If the flavor doesn't fit a familiar food experience, and instead fits into a pattern that involves chemical cleaning agents and dirt, or crawly insects, then the brain highlights the mismatch and the potential threat to our safety. We react strongly and throw the offending ingredient on the floor where it belongs."

For cilantro haters considering an herbal conversion, McGee notes that crushing cilantro leaves enables  enzymes "to gradually convert the aldehydes into other substances with no aroma," making cilantro pestos and other purees potentially much more tolerable.

Posted by: Send a Meal AT 08:34 am   |  Permalink   |  Email