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In defense of cilantro, the flavorful herb most people find repulsive

In defense of cilantro, the flavorful herb most people find repulsive

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  • Honestly, it’s an acquired taste
cilantro unsplash lindsay moe

I’d like to believe that most of us here love our spices and herbs. Only naturally so because our cuisine, and those of our neighboring countries, practically thrive in the mix of aromatics and seasonings. But there’s one that gets a lot of hate: cilantro.

One of the primary and most common arguments against this herb is that it’s too pungent or that it tastes like soap. Even culinary icon Julia Child once said she would “pick [cilantro] out and throw it on the floor” if she ever found some in her food.

Now I’m not here to yuck on anyone’s yums (as you may all already know by now), nor am I here to chastise you for hating on this herb. I’m just here to say that maybe you should give cilantro another chance. Or two. Or ten. 

I say this from personal experience. I, too, started out wary about this confusing herb. It looked plain and normal like the mild parsley, but my first bite of it made me cringe. 

[READ: Is coriander the same as cilantro? Well yes, and no]

It tasted funky, and for what might’ve been the first time ever, I had no idea why my mom was raving about it. I didn’t dare tell her I didn’t like it though; I just refused any subsequent offers to add wansoy salad to my plate.

We are a cilantro-loving household. So much so we even tried putting (a lot of) cilantro over kimchi rice. Does it sound weird? Maybe. But more importantly: Did it taste good? Heck yes.

If you can’t beat it, eat it

A quick Google search can prove just how versatile and dominant cilantro is in terms of world cuisine. If you let Google auto-complete the phrase, “cuisines that use…” it will suggest “cilantro.” And the results are pretty much every popular cuisine in the country: Thai, Chinese, Mexican, Mediterranean, and Indian, among others.

It has a sharp and fresh taste with a hint of citrus, making it something that can both cut through and fuse flavors at the same time. This may be why it works so well with a variety of dishes.

And with the plethora of restaurants in Manila covering almost all cuisines, I can say with certainty that it’s pretty much impossible to run away from this so-called soapy herb. While you can, like Julia Child, just opt to pick out the cilantro from your food, you can also just… well, eat it until it no longer bothers you. That’s how it worked for me.

But of course, this may not work for everyone, because for some people, hating cilantro is really just in their genes.

This bun cha from Bonne Cha has cilantro among its herbs. Photo by Argyl Leones

The science behind “hating” cilantro

In an article on Britannica, the reason why cilantro tastes like soap to some people is attributed to “a variation in a group of olfactory-receptor genes that allows them to strongly perceive the soapy-flavored aldehydes in cilantro leaves.”

Studies have also shown that there is a lower incidence of people with these genes in places like Central America and India, where cilantro is popular. 

“There is some evidence that cilantrophobes can overcome their aversion with repeated exposure to the herb, especially if it is crushed rather than served whole,” Britannica writes. 

And that brings us back to our earlier point: If you can’t beat it, just eat it. Be creative with cooking it, or just find other people who will (as I always say).

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