Cilantro, A Fragrance Bomb

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Cilantro, or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Fragrance Bomb in my food. A good starter dish is guacamole.

Cilantro, A Fragrance Bomb

Cilantro tastes like soap. It tastes like stink bugs. Is there dirt in this dish? Those are reactions to eating cilantro. Julia Childs famously told Larry King that she would throw it on the floor when it appeared on a dish presented to her. Many people just push it aside. 

The English herbalist John Gerard called it a very stinking herb. 

Fortunately it gets a better reception in my family. 

The term Fragrance Bomb may seem extreme, but this herb does release aldehydes which can be odiferous. For millennia, aldehydes in cilantro have been used for perfumes. Synthetic aldehydes are found in perfumes such as Chanel №5. Truly a fragrance bomb.

Cilantro, A Fragrance Bomb
Cilantro growing at the TownHouse Gardens

There is a gene associated with SOME of the people who find Cilantro revolting. A survey of 23&Me asked users if cilantro tasted soapy. The results suggested a genetic connection: 

Cilantro, A Fragrance Bomb
From  23 and Me Survey Results


A study reported in 2012 (source below) suggests a gene near a cluster on the 11th chromosome responsible for olfaction reception may be responsible for the dislike of cilantro in ten percent of the population. The exact mechanism has not been discovered, however it has to do with aldehydes. 

Other familiar aldehydes include formaldehyde, which is used to preserve organic samples.  Aldehydes give stink bugs their distinctive odor, a form of defense. A fragrance bomb?

You do not like cilantro. It must be in your genes. Not entirely. Dislike may also be cultural or environmental, rather than genetic. Maybe you just have not had cilantro with the right combination of foods.

Cilantro in Food

Consider for example a search for recipes that include cilantro. Here's is a search for recipes using cilantro in the food section of the New York Times:

Cilantro, A Fragrance Bomb

I would guess that few of the 1700 plus recipes are for dishes common in north European cuisine. Of course the world is not static and dishes such as Lorne Sausage in Scotland includes cilantro. Also the spicy Akvavit, a Scandinavian spirit can include coriander (which is another way of saying cilantro). Phall, makes the list of the most popular dishes in the UK. It is made with coriander and with a combination of chili is said to have a Scoville rating of 1,000,000. Source: Taste Atlas

Most of my working life was in cilantro friendly territories. However my cilantro joy started prior to my work overseas with the California staple, guacamole. 

Unsure if you like cilantro? Guacamole is a good gateway recipe to get you started. As an added benefit, avocados are the main ingredient of guacamole, and according to the CNN Business, they are 13% cheaper than compared to last year. 

Here's my recipe for guacamole

Cilantro, A Fragrance Bomb

  • Avocado
  • Fresh lime juice (yes, that is a sweet lime from the TownHouse Garden
  • Green onions
  • Cilantro
  • Fresh chili, but in a pinch Old Bay Seasoning
  • Salt

Guacamole is an Nahualtl (as in Aztecs) word for avocado sauce. Though early avocado sauce prior to the Spanish conquest did not include cilantro. 

Cilantro recipes were written in hieroglyphs, seeds were found in King Tut's tomb, and the ancient Greeks grew it as a herb and ingredient for their perfumes.

Health Benefits?

Pliny in his Natural History said the plant had cooling and refreshing properties. 

According to an article in the Health Cleveland Clinic, cilantro is

  • It’s a natural potent antioxidant.
  • Its leaves contain a chemical called dodecanal that has an antibacterial effect against salmonella.
  • It’s a dietary source of iron, magnesium​ and manganese.
  • It’s a natural diuretic.
  • It can help battle nausea.

What do you think? Do you  hate it like it? Do you have a favorite recipe? Tempted to purchase a cilantro based perfume on Etsy? Add a comment below to share your experience.

Even with an aversion to the plant, you may find an enjoyable recipe that includes it. A positive behavioral feedback can overcome a natural or cultural antipathy to cilantro. If that happens, then you might not do a Julie Child and throw your cilantro on the floor in disgust. 

Sources and Notes:

1. Eriksson, N., Wu, S., Do, C.B. A genetic variant near olfactory receptor genes influences cilantro preference. Flavour 1, 22 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1186/2044-7248-1-22

https://www.tasteatlas.com/100-most-popular-dishes-in-united-kingdom

https://health.clevelandclinic.org/do-you-love-or-hate-cilantro-the-reason-may-surprise-you/

I have used cilantro and coriander interchangeably. Same plant, but cilantro refers to the leaf and coriander is the dried seed of the plant.

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Townhouse Gardening: Cilantro, A Fragrance Bomb
Cilantro, A Fragrance Bomb
Cilantro, or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Fragrance Bomb in my food. A good starter dish is guacamole.
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