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Apr 11, 2006 07:42 PM

Quick Cilantro Tasting Question - what percentage taste soap?

  • p

I perused the lengthy threads, but didn't find any approximate percentage of those unfortunate folks who can't taste the bright sharp flavor, and instead taste LifeBuoy...a person I know on another board asked, since he's a Soap Guy. He'd never heard this before, and thought it a revelation.

Any more-or-less hard numbers, or just an anecdotal 15% - 20%?

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  1. The first time I had a salsa with cilantro in it, I had no idea what it was and thought they had spilled Ivory liquid in it.

    3 Replies
    1. re: loveskittles

      Both soap and cilantro contain the powerful fragrance linalool. See below.

      The selective hypersensitivity to the smell may be genetic-based. Smell hypersensitivities often are.

      1. re: maria lorraine

        maria lorraine's objective post is all we need to know really. It tastes like soap because it has some of the same stuff in it that soap has. I love cilantro AND I recognize the soapy taste/fragrance. I appreciate complexity that the herb brings to a dish when it is used judiciously. Its just like a classic gewurzstraminer where the soapy nose/flavour is sought after. I wouldn't enjoy chomping on a bar of Irish Springs though.

        1. re: haggisdragon

          Agreed! I thought I was the only one who tasted the soapiness in cilantro and had learned to love it. (It did take a bit of effort, but now I'm quite a fan.)

    2. Soap to me unless the food is really really spicy, then I can appreciate it. I will never forget the time in the 80's when cilantro was the darling herb of all of the young chefs. We were at the Lake Placid Lodge having lunch on the deck and I ordered gaspacho which was loaded with the nasty stuff. I was totally ruined. Of course if the gaspacho was a Mexican dish it might have belonged, but being Spanish it was totally wrong. Ruined the whole lunch for me. I could not get that taste out of my mouth

      10 Replies
      1. re: Candy

        I couldn't agree more. When I read some of the comments of these "food writer wanna-bes" in all their gushiness about its delicasy, the complexity it brings to a dish, how lovely it augers so well with so many different cuisines...

        The bottom line is that to a great many people IT TASTES LIKE SOAP! ! ! So, would it be toooooo much to ask that those who submit recipes with this noxious weed PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE offer a substitute or just simply leave it out all together.

        1. re: bob3443

          "those who submit recipes with this noxious weed PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE offer a substitute or just simply leave it out all together..."

          Hi bob3443, let me help you out: you simply leave it out of recipes when you see it. That was easy wasn't it!

          1. re: mrsmashy

            Clearly you miss the point. You simply can not leave out an ingredient and expect the dish to still have a flavor intended. While half the people who use cilantro think it tastes great,the other half of the population with far more sophisticated palates, detect a very definite taste of soap. This fact is irrefutable in that cilantro does have some type of chemical compound that is associated with the "taste" or flavor" of soap.

            My main issue is that, those who write recipes, know many people do have an aversion to cilantro. All I ask is that they show the courtesy of offering an acceptable substitute to the 50% of the people who find cilantro to be distasteful.

            Robert Hayes Halfpenny

            1. re: bob3443

              The perception of soapiness in cilantro has nothing to do with a "sophisticated palate."

              Perception of soapiness in cilantro is genetically based, due to a specific genetic sequence that encodes for an olfactory receptor.

              A Genetic Variant Near Olfactory Receptor Genes Influences Cilantro Preference
              " We find a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) significantly associated with soapy-taste detection that is confirmed in the cilantro preference group. This SNP
              ...lies within a cluster of olfactory receptor genes on chromosome 11. These results confirm that there is a genetic component to cilantro taste perception and suggest that cilantro dislike may stem from genetic variants in olfactory receptors."

              Soapy Taste of Coriander Linked to Genetic Variants
              "A genetic survey of nearly 30,000 people...has identified two genetic variants linked to perception of coriander, the most common of which is in a gene involved in sensing smells."

              Many hypersensitivities or hyposensitivities in flavor and aroma perception are the result of specific genetic sequences.

              Your implication that one's palate is more sophisticated, or that possibly a person has increased perception skills in general, if they can detect a soapy smell, is entirely inaccurate.

              1. re: maria lorraine

                This is interesting. I think it is funny how we describe the taste of food using scent rather than actual taste. Saying a food tastes like "a cleaning product" or "perfume" or "soap" isn't really accurate, because smell and taste are proven to be distinct. Furthermore it is known that what we call the "flavor" of something is a combination of taste, smell, texture and temperature and perhaps even visual. So the research you have cited above indeed reveals the key. In the case of cilantro, it seems clear that the dominant sense is the persons's smell rather than taste, thus sensory confusion ensues. The smell over-powers the taste, and causes the aversion - yet the person assumes it is the "taste."

                1. re: MaxSeven

                  You're a bit incorrect about the perception of flavor by the brain. Both smell and taste information merge in a complex interface before being processed by the brain's flavor perception region. Scent comes to the brain from both the back of the mouth and through the nose and is combined with taste receptor, temperature and texture info when being processed.

                  Bear in mind that things like soap or soapiness are not scent only, but both scent and taste. We can taste soap left on dishes, right?

                  The soapiness in cilantro is a specific molecule, a numbered aldehyde, that has both a flavor and a smell. Right now, what we know is that when people perceive soapiness in cilantro, they have a specific genetic sequence that allows them to smell that soapy molecule.

                  The perception of a soapy TASTE in cilantro is probably *also* the result of a specific genetic sequence some people have, just as is the perception of many individual bitter tastes. That's where I'd put my money, and where I'd bet the science is heading.

                  This doesn't mean the person who smells or tastes soapiness in cilantro smells or tastes with any more acuity or perception than other people, only that they have genetic sensitivity to this individual soapy cilantro taste/aroma.

                  1. re: maria lorraine

                    No, the molecules are still being received by distinct sensory functions of the human body - how the brain interprets this what causes the aversion.

                    As for the descriptions - I am referring to the language being used. People often use smells to describe taste, which to me, is rather humorous. The actual taste of soap, is very different from that of cilantro. Pinch your nose closed and try taking a taste of dish soap and then a cilantro leaf - compare. No similarity.

                    1. re: MaxSeven

                      <<No, the molecules are still being received by distinct sensory functions of the human body>>

                      That is misleading when we are talking about the perception of smell and taste.

                      Taste neurons interface with olfactory information in the brain's orbitofrontal cortex. This information is then sent on to the rostral insula in the brain for interpretation.

                      <<Pinch your nose closed and try taking a taste of dish soap and then a cilantro leaf - compare. No similarity.>>

                      Your comparison of dish soap and a cilantro leaf is not apt because of the enormous difference of degree. We are not talking about soap per se, but soapiness and infinite gradations of soapiness. Dish soap is soapiness of an extreme magnitude; the degree of soapiness in a leaf of cilantro is far, far subtler.

            1. re: bob3443

              As I noted 4 years ago below, the best non-parsley substitute for cilantro is celery leaves.

          2. No soap (radio) for me - I love the stuff. But I've never seen a percentage for the cilantro-as-soap tastebud.


            2 Replies
            1. re: AnneInMpls

              I haven't heard someone use the punchline "no soap, radio" (other than myself) in at least 30 years. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Where did you first hear it?

              I transitioned from tasting the soap to not. So now I adore cilantro.

              1. re: Steve S.

                I've spent a lifetime absorbing trivia, so I can't remember when I first heard it. But now I simply can't use the phrase "no soap" without adding "radio".

                It's the first time I've used this phrase to describe how cilantro tastes to me, though!


            2. 70% love cilantro. The remaining 30% [clearly the minority] have malfunctioning tastebuds. The variance is ±7%.

              23 Replies
              1. re: The Ranger

                You know, I don't know if you just made this up, but this is about what I found googling. There are no real scientific facts, just a few references.

                And the other theory is what you said ... malfunctioning tastebuds ... supposedly some people have a genetic problem with cilantro and usually based on race with Europeans being the most likely to carry the gene that makes cilantro taste bad.

                This was the most credible report on that (scroll down):


                This was just a fun cilantro fact site that I came across


                The only statistics were pie graphs from a site on what cilantro tastes like


                1. re: rworane

                  OMG - I am speechless. Thanks to both of you for the stats (made up or not!).

                  1. re: rworane

                    Found the site below where people can vote if they like cilantro or not. The results so far with a limited audiance is

                    43% - Like it
                    57% - Hate it

                    I think beside the limited sampling, the cilantro haters are a lot more vocal and passionate, so the results might be skewed in that sense.

                    You don't see the results until you vote.

                    Also, found an actual study about cilantro and genetics.

                    It studied "the ability to taste PTC and a preference for or against cilantro flavor"

                    The results were:

                    "Contrary to our hypothesis there does not seem to be a strong polarity in cilantro taste preference. And while the pedigrees do not illustrate a clear genetic mechanism to tasting cilantro they do show that attributing a bitter flavor to cilantro seems directly inherited."

                    Scroll down or do a find for 'cilantro'



                    1. re: rworange

                      Thanks. That's pretty much what I was looking for.

                      With other herbs that some people seem to strongly dislike - fennel seed, tarragon, lavender - there is a common denominator. Lavender is too strong and sort of musty-tasting, reminiscent of Grandma's linen closet, and those who hate licorice usually hate fennel seed and tarragon, as well, for obvious reasons. But cilantro? Not at all the same.

                      Thanks to all for your heartfelt responses and input. I think this is genuinely fascinating!

                      1. re: peg

                        Interesting, because as an aside, I can't STAND tarragon, but love licorice and fennel seed...morover, I don't think tarragon tastes at all like the other two, so am scratching my head at the statement 'for obvious reasons'. I am assuming they are related, but never realized that before seeing this post (?)

                        of course, hubby claims the only reason I hate tarragon is that some places got into using way too much of it in years past...but that's another story...

                        1. re: susancinsf

                          I agree completely. Tarragon tastes terrible to me, but licorice and fennel are some of my favorite flavors. I cannot stand anything flavored with or smelling of lavender, though.

                          1. re: Snackish

                            since this thread has been bumped anyway, let me say: lavender. yuck. IMO it isn't a food (though I don't mind lavender scented soap).

                            1. re: susancinsf

                              So no Herbs de Provence for you, susan? I agree it can be *very* strong on its own and has to be used very judiciously, but I do like a bit of lavender in an Herbs de Provence blend.

                          2. re: susancinsf
                            janet of reno

                            I don't think your hubbie's theory is totally right. After all, I can't stand tarragon either. Never have liked it. There has to be something genetic going on there; our mother certainly never used it in cooking so you can't say its nurture. (For those who are scratching their head at this, Susan is my natural clone, ie my identical twin). And yes, I do like anise and licorice and fennel seed.

                            1. re: susancinsf

                              Tarragon definitely tastes licorice-like to me: like a combination of anise and fresh-mown grass. I like the licorice/fennel/anise family but only in small doses. You're right that tarragon when overused can be unpleasant -- all of those substances can be overpowering if not used judiciously.

                              I'm on the "love it" side with cilantro, but my Dad has the "tastes like soap" reaction. I can actually perceive the soap flavor faintly, but not enough for it to be unpleasant.

                              1. re: susancinsf

                                Tarragon absolutely tastes like black licorice to me, and somewhat similar to fennel and anise, although more subdued and "dusty", for lack of a better word. I love all three.

                                Lavender, on the other hand, is revolting, as is chamomile. Ick.

                                1. re: susancinsf

                                  I have a family member who claims to HATE tarragon, yet has been raving over my tarragon salad dressing for 30 years - !?!?!?

                                2. re: peg

                                  Wow, never noticed a connection between fennel seed/ tarragon licorice and lavender. I hate them all. Although I am tolerant of some fennel seed in sausage as long as I don't bite into a seed. I also can't stand star anise.

                                  I also thought I was the only one that thinks cilantro tastes like soap. I don't hate it, but I can live without it.

                                  1. re: MrsT

                                    Not soap, moth balls. Definitely smells and tastes like moth balls.

                                  2. re: peg

                                    Tarragon? Are you possibly thinking of anise or star anise? I don't believe I have ever heard anyone discribe tarragon as being liquorice like in taste.

                                    1. re: bob3443

                                      Tarragon tastes like liquorice to me, I hate it.

                                      1. re: eastofnevada

                                        Tarragon is mildly licorice to me - and is usually described as such. I don't really care for licorice, but I do like tarragon.

                                  3. re: rworange

                                    Of course people who don't like cilantro are more likely to vote--its an interesting issue to them.

                                    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                      Sure, this poll is fraught with type # 2 statistical error- human error- but fun, nevertheless.
                                      And when the little people in your surroundings use off-color language, you can be green and P.C. by telling them that next time you will wash their mouth out with cilantro :)

                                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                        I err on the side of cilantro. I'll defend it's worthiness and protect it's rightful regal station, until my final utterance, which will not be "Rosebud", but will be "Cilantro".

                                        1. re: Veggo

                                          your final utterance will be "cilantro"? that's hardcore.
                                          then again, i've been known to eat basil sandwiches.

                                3. re: The Ranger

                                  I can not argue with your numbers, but I do take umbridge as to your statement that we have malfunctioning tastebuds. I have been in the hotel and restaurant business for better than half a century and I assure that my tastebuds are as acurate today as they were when I first started out in my field of endevour.

                                  1. re: bob3443

                                    My taste buds are well refined and I quite the foodie and is will to try anything at least once
                                    but the first time and the most resent time I had cilantro it tastes Like dish soap has been copiously poured on it.
                                    But it kind of rude to call it a defect as everyone has foods that they dislike at various levels from Hate to minor dislike and can be from taste to texture as I love coconut in Pinna coladas and but hate it shredded due to texture but love coconut shrimp as deep frying changes the texture.
                                    Some food genes are possible just like the extreme which are food allergies as I got two generically odd traits which is I we are allergic to rice but no other grain and my HDL/LDL is totally out of whack in my family as the HDL(good cholesterol) is very high and the LDL is very low even though I go through 2 pounds of butter a month and lot of meat and potatoes and chesses as well

                                4. Soap first time I tasted it, then slid gracefully into what I taste now. Initial dislike, followed by interest, then delight.

                                  8 Replies
                                  1. re: Will Owen

                                    Amen. I always feel like I'm missing out on something when I don't like it at first. So I have to keep going back until I get it.

                                          1. re: Will Owen

                                            Same here. I didn't realize there were quite a few others who felt the same way. I still get a bit of a soapy taste, but I've learned to pick out other flavours in it and I l love it.

                                            Then again, I adore Kava, which tastes quite soapy, too.

                                            1. re: Will Owen

                                              This has been my experience also, which to me suggests that the genetic thing isn't the whole story.

                                              1. re: loraxc

                                                Maybe for some, but not everyone. Always soap, for decades...