Cilantro is one of the most loved — and hated — herbs. Why does it taste like soap to some people?

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Credit: Sam Brosnan/Food Beast
Credit: Sam Brosnan/Food Beast

Coriander, also known as cilantro, is one of the most commonly used herbs in the world, but a preference for this little leafy green is just one more thing that divides people.

Humans have hundreds of receptors, which send signals to our brains to produce what we recognize as aromas and flavors.

But exactly how this works is complex and differs from person to person. The same chemical can be found in both appealing and unappealing places — cheese and body odor, for example. Conversely, the same ingredient — such as cilantro — can contain both pleasant and unpleasant chemicals. Whether stinky cheese and cilantro are delicious or disgusting depends on your particular perception of many different chemicals.

The two genetic variants used in 23andMe’s Cilantro Taste Aversion trait report are both located in a cluster of olfactory receptor genes. These are biological sensors that detect chemicals in the air and in food. These receptor genes are also linked to the ability to detect what are called aldehydes, chemical compounds that are found in soap and thought to be a major component of cilantro aroma.

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One of the eight genes near the variants 23andMe uses in its report codes for a receptor called OR6A2, which is known to detect aldehydes such as those found in cilantro. 

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