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Could it be that cilantro tastes like soap?

What a strange question! I would say a Mexican. I am fascinated by cilantro, what’s more, when I see a photograph of a dish that goes with a green sauce, it immediately captures my attention, with a great possibility that I am going to recreate it.

In Mexico, cilantro is a fundamental pillar in our daily diet. If we look carefully at what we eat, it is very likely that we will find this ingredient in most of our dishes. Along with corn, chili, tomato and onion, it is an essential component in traditional Mexican cuisine.

Its presence on our tables goes beyond its role as a condiment, and although it is relatively new, it was introduced to America by Europeans in the 17th century, it has become a symbol of culinary identity and an indispensable element in Mexican home cooking. .

However, when it comes to Spain, cilantro was a fundamental part of medieval Jewish cuisine, which was also enjoyed by the Muslims of the peninsula. Used for its stimulating and digestive properties, its presence was recorded in recipes and cookbooks from the 12th century in Arabic, but from the 15th century, the persecution of Jewish converts to Christianity led to its gradual abandonment in favor of parsley, to avoid suspicions of Judaization by the Inquisition. Although relegated for a time, cilantro has little by little become present in Spain.

It is a versatile and aromatic herb, which has conquered cuisines in various parts of the world, but behind its popularity lies a deep division between palates: while some praise it as an essential ingredient, others vehemently reject it, even going so far as to describe its taste like “soap”. That is why it is of great interest to sensory scientists.

Recent research suggests that the polarization towards cilantro may have genetic bases. According to studies by the firm 23andMe, certain genes related to the olfactory senses, especially the OR6A2 gene, are linked to aversion due to sensitivity to aldehydes, which are present both in cilantro and in products such as soaps and perfumes.

Other studies have linked aversion to this herb with genes related to the detection of bitter tastes, suggesting that genetics is not the only determining factor in this division of tastes. In fact, less than 10 percent of cilantro preference appears to be directly related to common genetic variants.

Despite these findings, preference for this herb remains a complex and multifaceted phenomenon; Genetics and smell receptors are not the only elements that influence our perception of the flavor of cilantro. The lack of prior contact with certain foods and the diversity of our taste experiences also play an important role. If someone has not had the opportunity to try certain foods or it has been limited, it can cause an aversion to trying new flavors. It is commonly a natural response when we are faced with unfamiliar dishes, our sensation is strongly influenced by familiarity.

While it is commonly rooted in regions of America, Asia and Europe, in the United States little is found in its recipes, rejected by the majority of its inhabitants.

Ultimately, the controversy surrounding cilantro highlights the subjectivity inherent in culinary preferences and the complexity of individual tastes—some enjoy its freshness and aroma, others find it overwhelming and even unpleasant. Whether loved or hated, this plant continues to be a fascinating subject in the world of gastronomy, where flavors and perceptions intertwine in a unique dance of sensory experiences.

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