Breaking Bread: Do you hate cilantro? Flavor can grow on you
Oh, cilantro haters, must you loathe this simple green herb so vehemently?
When passing out salsa samples at the Pearl Market recently, I found myself on the receiving end of cilantro hostility.
Market patrons asked pointedly: “Is there cilantro in that?”
When I said the salsa was indeed flavored with cilantro, a full-body shudder would inevitably follow, accompanied by a declaration: “I hate cilantro!”
So much scorn for such a harmless herb.
Can’t cilantro haters be a little more civil, say, along the lines of the mayonnaise vs. Miracle Whip debaters?
I understand that cilantro really does taste like soap to some; even Julia Child was a cilantro hater.
For others, the taste and smell reminds them of bugs. (I won’t get into the discussion of how these folks know what bugs taste like.)
I don’t question scientific research that overwhelmingly suggests that genetics rule how people perceive the taste of cilantro. Cilantro haters can’t help the dislike; it’s in their genes.
I get all of that.
But I don’t understand the fervor.
Distaste for cilantro has prompted a website (ihatecilantro.com) with almost 5,000 followers and an entire section of anti-cilantro haiku the likes of this:
Every single time
I taste that disgusting plant
I die more inside
Plenty of folks don’t care for mushrooms, yet the Facebook page Culinary Mushroom Haters of America has just six fans.
For help understanding the vitriol, I turned to former Columbus, Ohio, resident Erin H. May, who maintains an anti-cilantro blog, ihatecilantro.wordpress.com.
May, who now lives in Brooklyn, New York, even included her dislike of cilantro in her 2011 wedding vows, proclaiming that her love for her groom was as certain as her hatred of cilantro.
How’s that for romantic?
In an email exchange, May admitted that she knows of no other food that so bitterly divides people.
An editor who sometimes writes about food, May described her dislike of cilantro as “pure, unadulterated hate.’”
“There’s no nuance there. It’s very black-and-white,” she said. Cilantro “simply ruins everything it touches.”
Her frustration has been compounded by cilantro’s apparent proliferation, from the rice at
Chipotle to its use as a garnish on drinks.
“A bloody mary at a French restaurant maybe takes the cake,” May said.
The farmers market patrons I tried to sway had their minds as fixed as May’s.
But change is possible. I, too, used to think cilantro tasted like soap.
The more I ate it, though, the more I came to enjoy it. Now, I’m a cilantro lover.
My experience isn’t unique.
In a 2010 New York Times article, Northwestern University neuroscientist Jay Gottfried explained how he, too, was a cilantro covert. The more he ate, the more he liked it — a phenomenon he attributed to the brain constantly updating its database of experiences.
Our minds are open to adapting to new tastes. We just have to be willing to try them.
— Lisa Abraham writes about food for The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @DispatchKitchen.