“I can’t eat this,” my husband declares, pushing his bowl away. I’m immediately annoyed. I spent 45 minutes making a new Mexican recipe for dinner. I give him that “I’m-pissed” look. He continues, “There’s something in it that doesn’t taste right.”
I’m both aggravated and shocked. My husband never complains. Like ever. I take another bite of the rice bowl—savoring it. I have absolutely no clue what his issue is. Honestly, who doesn’t like Mexican food? I’m no chef, but I’m not a terrible cook.
He begins poking through his bowl with his fork, his nose scrunched up while I give him death glares. I’m trying to send him a mental message that the kids can hear him adult-tantrumming over the dinner I made. And then he thrusts his fork into the air and exclaims victoriously, “Found it!” I squint and lean in to see a tiny piece of cilantro on the tip of the fork prong.
“So?” I tell him. “It’s just cilantro!”
“It’s disgusting,” he replies, taking huge swigs of water. “I’ve never had anything this bad in my life.” I roll my eyes and keep eating. Oh well, I think. More for me.
What exactly is cilantro? Cilantro is the pungent stems and leaves of the coriander plant. California produces the most domestically-grown cilantro every year, but other states have cilantro farms too—Washington, Oregon, and Arizona. Cilantro is sometimes referred to as Mexican or Chinese parsley.
No matter what you call it or where you get it, one thing is clear — you either love it or hate it. There’s no middle ground. Compromise isn’t an option.
It turns out, my husband isn’t alone in his hatred of the tiny green leaves that are often added to Indian, Mexican, and Asian dishes for flavor. There is a 6,300 member Facebook community dedicated to loathing cilantro—appropriately titled I Hate Cilantro.
Lauren Kennedy, a married mother of two, started the group in 2007 as a joke. She told Scary Mommy that she was the only person in her family who hated cilantro, and she wanted to find like-minded people. Daily, members flock to her group to post photos of restaurant orders gone array, cilantro-themed memes, and GIFs.
Kennedy allowed me to take a peek into her closed group, and what I found is that members aren’t playing. I asked members what they call cilantro and why they hate it so much. They schooled me—passionately.
Member Selke Brewer refers to cilantro as “Satan’s Sprinkles” and states that to her, cilantro tastes like dish soap and pennies. Meg McKibben says cilantro is the “Devil’s lettuce.” Kate Holbrook Griesser replied that in Dallas where she lives, she’s seen cilantro everywhere—including in margaritas–and refers to it as “horrible little green a-hole herb.” Shelly Richey Miller, also residing in Texas, told me cilantro is the flavor of “soap, sadness, and hate.” Dianne Averill claims that cilantro tastes like “what old gym socks smell like.” Andrea Cracknell claims that cilantro “infiltrates everything it touches”—and admin Kennedy concurs.
And get this—science backs up those who are turned off by cilantro. Studies have shown that for some people, cilantro is so repulsive because it tastes like soap. Yes, soap. Like wash-your-skin in the shower soap. It’s so terrible that even one of the most iconic chefs of all time, Julia Child, said cilantro has a “dead taste” and if it were in food she was served, she would throw it on the floor.
Why do some people love cilantro while others hate it? This isn’t your typical sweet potato or pumpkin pie or Coke or Pepsi debate. Science says some people maybe be genetically predisposed to hate the taste of cilantro. I wanted to call BS on this—mostly out of spite for my husband’s reaction to our dinner–but further research convinced me that cilantro-aversion is legit, and for some, it can be an actual phobia.
Jay Gottfried, a neuroscientist and researcher at Northwestern University who studies humans and food consumption, explained that if the cilantro taster’s brain cannot recall a memory identifying the flavor, that person may identify cilantro as a threat to their well-being.
When I first read this, I literally laughed out loud. How is cilantro a threat? Why are some turning the fragile, bright green leaves into the Boogie Man? Like of all the terrible things going on in the world—we’re concerned about a plant?
But when I think about it, there are foods I truly loathe—even some commonly appreciated and enjoyed foods. Take coconut for example. It’s not just in food, but in many beauty products including sunscreen, lotion, and lip balm. Coconut is the scent of summer—much to my dismay.
I’ve hated coconut for as long as I can remember. When I was about seven years old, my aunt—a proud chocaholic—took me to a fancy chocolate shop. She bought a golden box of gourmet truffles, and we dug in before even making it across the parking lot and to the car. The element of surprise was the best part—biting into the truffle to find out what delicious flavor was waiting inside the chocolate shell.
My first truffle was amazing—raspberry. But my second truffle was full of fluffy white coconut. I wasn’t even a full bite in before I gagged and vomited in the parking lot of the upscale shopping center. I spent the rest of the day feeling queasy and resentful. No matter how much water I drank, I couldn’t rid my mouth—or my mind—of that horrid flavor. To this day, even a whiff of coconut can send my mind right back to that parking lot.
I guess if science says cilantro can truly be repulsive to some people, I have to give my husband a pass. He truly couldn’t help hating the dinner I made—since minuscule bits of cilantro tainted the dish for him. Now, I’m certainly not going to stop buying and consuming cilantro. In fact, I’m the only one in my family of six who snips off extra leaves and plops them on top of my scrambled eggs and stirs them into my Pad Thai.
But I am going to take Diana Hayward—member of the I Hate Cilantro’s group—at her word. She offered this warning to cilantro fans. Cilantro is not an acquired taste, she cannot be converted, and any speck of “devil weed” is detectable. So don’t try to trick her—or any of her fellow cilantro-averse. It’s not happening. Not now. Not ever.
As with anything in life, we need to let “you do you.” So when it comes to cilantro–to each their own.
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