Monday, July 16, 2012

Cilantro Manifesto

There are few ingredients that receive hatred as vehement as that directed at cilantro. While many love it, there are those who would rejoice in its mass global extinction, would revel in watching it shrivel and burn to ashes. There’s even a blog dedicated to the loathing of cilantro ( And that is the real difference between hatred of cilantro and hatred of other oft-abhorred foods. People dislike Brussels sprouts, anchovies, and liver, but never as vocally and passionately as those who hate cilantro. And then on the opposite end of the spectrum, there are those who love it. Very few people fall into the indifferent middle ground.

Cilantro has several aliases, one of them being Chinese parsley, and another being coriander, though the latter tends to refer to the milder seeds, which aren’t subject to the same level of aversion. This Mediterranean native is common in South American, Middle Eastern, Indian, and Chinese cooking, and considered one of the most global herbs. It is found in a number of chutneys, curries, salads, and the ever-popular guacamole, bringing with it a distinct and citrusy flavour.

So why then, do people hate it so much? Why can you find negative comments on this herb as far back as 1600, lingering in the pages of English garden books and French farming books? What exactly inspired Julia Child’s desire to, as she put it, “throw it on the floor”?

One common complaint is that cilantro smells and tastes like soap. Or stinkbugs, depending on how disparaging the critical person wants to be. In fact, some of the aldehydes (organic compounds) that make up cilantro’s fragrance are the same as those found in soap and the odour given off by some bugs. Scent, apparently, has a lot to do with it, more than the actual flavour. And it may not be that cilantro-haters simply dislike the smell; it may be that they can’t smell certain aromas, so whatever makes people love it is simply not present to those who hate it. Some studies even suggest that people may be genetically predisposed to finding it repulsive. So despising cilantro could be as much a fluke as whether or not you can roll your tongue.

Personally, I love cilantro. I love its distinct, sharp flavour, the way it announces its presence in a dish and contributes to a complexity that more than justifies its inclusion. I know plenty of people who would disagree. Vehemently. This weird food divide isn't likely to change anytime soon, but at least there's some explanation as to why.

Check out this article that was in the New York Times if you want to read more.

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