Coriander, often referred to as cilantro in North America, is a herb native to southern Europe, northern Africa and southwestern Asia. Coriander is thought to be capable of lowering cholesterol,1 as well as treating fevers, nausea and stomach disorders,2 and is a popular herb of choice in both Indian and Spanish cuisines. It is also commonly known that some people cannot tolerate the taste of coriander, with many expressing that coriander containing dishes have an overpoweringly soapy taste.
Coriander seeds have four stages of development and for this discussion we will focus on the oil content of coriander seeds in their final development stage. The major compound found in these coriander seeds is linalool3 (figure 1a), a terpene alcohol used to add a floral scent to many cosmetic products. Coriander leaves themselves have a slightly different composition, still containing linalool but mostly made up of 2-alkenals with between 10 and 16 carbon atoms, where the (E)-2-decenal was found to be the major constituent (figure 1b).4,5 Both linalool and (E)-2-decenal are molecules frequently used in soaps and perfumes, and it has been suggested that these are the reason some people taste soap when eating coriander.
It is however, possible that these chemicals are not the only reason people find the taste of coriander polarising, and genetics is thought to play a part in this. The olfactory organs are responsible for your sense of smell and important in the detection of food you either like or dislike. Studies involving European populations were carried out to detect whether there is a genetic reason for disliking coriander, and it is possible that a group of olfactory receptor genes may be responsible for this soapy perception of the herb.6
Other studies carried out in Caucasian populations state taste receptor genes are also involved in influencing coriander preference, and it has been reported that other ethnic groups show no statistical association with either the olfactory or taste receptor genes.7
If you get that soapy, polarising taste when you eat food containing coriander, it is possible that both the chemicals present in the coriander itself, as well as your genetics, are together playing a huge part in your dislike of the herb!
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