Coriander Cancel: Why Some Hate the Taste of Coriander

Words: Robyn Samuels

Whether you call it cilantro, coriander or dhania, certain folk regard this herb is the bane of existence. To some this superb herb tastes like sweaty armpit, soap or other atrocious comparisons. While coriander remains accepted by the majority of the global population and used in many restaurants, it is said that one in five people find the taste of coriander inedible. Let’s unearth some reasons as to why some hate the taste of coriander.

taste of coriander

Why the Coriander Hate?

Love it or hate it, coriander has been around for some time, but some people continue to cancel it. Some communities detest it so much that they’ve dedicated an entire day to it, aptly dubbed ‘I Hate Coriander Day’, where they protest the inclusion of coriander in burritos and other foods garnished with ‘the devil’s herb’, talk about first-world problems. One theory is that Lucifer himself loved coriander so much, he put it on everything he ate. But why does coriander get such a bad rap?

Coriander leaf oil is complex and has eleven carbon atoms (un​​decanal). This aldehyde structure is responsible for the bitter/soapy taste and citrus smell associated with coriander.

Some claim that coriander tastes ‘soapy’ or ‘metallic’ and can’t even bring themselves to try it, based on the smell alone. Coriander is related to parsley and is also known as ‘Chinese parsley’. It’s commonly used in Mexican cuisine and goes by the name of cilantro. In India it’s called ‘dhania’, which refers to the fresh leaves, distinguishing it from coriander seeds, which are frequently used in curries and other Indian dishes.

taste of coriander

Personally, I can’t get enough of it, I’ll take every chance I get to use this ostracised herb. Perhaps it’s because I grew up having this herb frequently, as most Cape Malay dishes aren’t complete without the addition of coriander. Up until recently, I thought this deep-rooted hatred for coriander was nothing but snobbery, but it turns out there’s actually a scientific explanation for this…

Chemical Composition of Coriander

Coriander contains aldehydes that are reactive organic alcohol compounds. Although aldehydes are organic, they are also commonly synthesised in perfumed products and laundry detergents. If you wanted to, you could probably swap out your Sunlight soap for coriander — just kidding, don’t do that.

Additionally, the gene linked to a specific olfactory receptor (OR6A2) is associated with aldehyde compounds and due to genetic variations, some people are more sensitive to foods containing strong aldehydes, compared to others.

If we look at the chemical structure, coriander leaf oil is complex and has eleven carbon atoms (un​​decanal). This aldehyde structure is responsible for the bitter/soapy taste and citrus smell associated with coriander. Apart from the chemistry of coriander, genes also play a role in the perceived taste of coriander. Because we each have different DNA sequences, our taste buds have different receptor genes…

taste buds

Ever notice those small tiny dots on your tongue? Well, they’re called papilla and some people have more and others, less. The more papilla you have, the more sensitive you are to certain tastes. Additionally, the gene linked to a specific olfactory receptor (OR6A2) is associated with aldehyde compounds and due to genetic variations, some people are more sensitive to foods containing strong aldehydes compared to others. Funnily, the OR6A2 protein which detects aldehydes are also found in stink bugs, which is why some people compare the taste of coriander to this foul-smelling insect.

Benefits of Coriander

Say what you will about it, this divisive herb actually has loads of health benefits. Coriander is high in antioxidants and it also has anti-fungal properties. Interestingly, coriander seeds are even said to be more effective against Salmonella than antibiotics, due to their antibacterial properties. It’s also particularly great for supporting bone health and helps ease indigestion, being high in calcium and fibre.

Coriander Recipes

If you can’t stomach the taste of coriander, I’m sincerely sorry for your loss and uncultured palate. But, if you tried coriander once and vowed to never try it ever again, perhaps it’s worth giving this controversial herb another chance… humans tend to create associations with certain foods, especially in our formative years, so chances are that you could change your perception and ‘trick your tastebuds’ into liking it, with reintroduction or repeated exposure to coriander.

Crushing coriander leaves speeds up the rate at which enzymes are able to break down the aldehyde compounds found in coriander, possibly resulting in a less pungent taste. Sounds like the perfect excuse to make coriander pesto or try some of these tasty coriander recipes.

Lamb Meatballs with Mint Coriander Yoghurt, Hummus

Fragrant coriander pairs perfectly with lamb and all kinds of proteins.

Lamb Meatballs with Mint Coriander Yoghurt Hummus Recipe

Roasted Tandoori Chicken with Apricot Coriander Chutney

Add a refreshing pop with the addition of coriander to your spicy tandoori chicken.

Whole Roasted Tandoori Chicken with Apricot Coriander Chutney Recipe

Prawn Coriander Dim Sum

When it comes to flavour combinations, the limits are endless for coriander. This earthy herb complements the slight sweetness of the prawn.

Prawn Coriander Dim Sum Recipe

Tomato & Coriander Curried Dahl with Basmati Rice

If ever there was a herb made for curry, its coriander . This tomato and coriander curried dahl is no exception.

Tomato & Coriander Curried Dahl with Basmati Rice and Greek Yoghurt Recipe

One comment

  1. Thank you for this interesting article. At last I understand why I cannot stand the taste or smell of coriander /cilantro/ dhania/ stinkbugweed. As there are so many wonderful herbs and spices that I love, I will leave the stink bugs to those who love it so much 🙂

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