There's no specific cilantro aversion gene, but there are genetic markers for this phenomenon. An AncestryDNA® test could reveal whether you are likely to have a cilantro aversion.
Cilantro is the leafy part of the coriander plant, and in fact, in the UK cilantro is called “fresh coriander." For some people, this parsley-like leaf has a citrusy, floral flavor that adds brightness to soups, dips, and salads. But for some people, cilantro tastes soapy, or even like dirt or crushed bugs. Julia Child is perhaps the most famous cilantro hater.
How can one herb be so divisive? It turns out, our experience of cilantro is tied to our DNA, though we don't really understand how.
So if you avoid Mexican food, Thai dishes, or Indian curries because of your cilantro aversion, it could be due to your genetics.
Genetics of Cilantro Aversion
While there's no such a thing as a "cilantro gene," some studies suggest that experiencing the taste of cilantro as soapy stems at least in part from your genes.
In one study, hundreds of twins at the annual Twins Days festival in Twinsburg, Ohio, were surveyed about their experience of cilantro. Of the identical twins, who share the same DNA, about 80% agreed on whether they found cilantro delicious or unpleasant.
But only about 50% of fraternal twins, who share half of their DNA, had the same love or loathing of the coriander leaf. These results indicate that cilantro aversion is at least partly genetic.
What Science Says About Cilantro Aversion
Scientific research has found several genes that are partially responsible for a strong like or dislike of cilantro. Two of these genes are OR10A6 or OR10A. They are olfactory (scent) receptor genes which sit on chromosome 11.
Because much of the flavor of food comes from its smell, people who are predisposed to detect a soapy smell in cilantro are also likely to think cilantro tastes soapy—or tastes like something to keep away from your mouth.
What people who dislike cilantro's smell and taste actually are detecting is aldehyde, an organic compound contained in cilantro that can smell quite unpleasant.
Fun Facts About Cilantro
Cilantro comes from the coriander plant, all of which is edible. The seeds can be dried to make the spice coriander. And the stems and leaves can be eaten fresh or dried. The seed has a different flavor profile than the leaf and doesn't cause the same pronounced reaction from haters.
In cultures with cilantro-heavy cuisines (like those in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East) fewer people report disliking it. So, it could be that even if you’ve got a “cilantrophobe” version of one of these genes, you could perhaps come around to liking it if you’re exposed to it enough.
Callaway E. Soapy taste of coriander linked to genetic variants. Nature. September 12, 2012. doi:10.1038/nature.2012.11398.