An Admittedly Biased Critique of Cilantro

For lunch, I had a spicy chicken wrap, and to my immense, life-long regret, I neglected to notice that one of the ingredients was cilantro. This lapse in observation was made very evident upon the first bite, when I thought I might actually faint with disgust, like a particularly delicate lady in a Victorian novel.

Luckily, the extremely offensive herb was concealed between folds of tomato tortilla and strips of chicken in long leafy sprigs, and not chopped into tiny poisonous bits, scattered to all corners of the wrap, or I would have gone hungry, driven mad by the inescapable and foul taste.

Yeah, I hate cilantro.

Some people describe it as tasting soapy, but this seems to me a great insult to soap. Cilantro tastes like it was grown in a barren patch of dirt, above the remains of a burned cheap shoe factory, which was run by a horrible man who underpaid his workers, liked to frighten children and throw things at cats, and who then haunted the whole area after his death. His ghost would probably cackle gleefully every time someone even came near the cilantro, deceptively pretty with its jaunty ruffled leaves. Basically, cilantro tastes like bitterness and death and pollution.

Yeah, I really hate cilantro.

Of course, I’m not the only one – turns out, there is even a whole website devoted to it. Ihatecilantro.com. Under the Taste section, there are other people’s attempts to describe the flavour, and some of them are absolute gems. I might not be the one who hates cilantro the most, even. Here are some of my favourites, for their specificity and creativity.

–          “plastic lemon feet”  

I have no idea what this is, but it sounds dreadful.

–          “A poisonous mix of Ivory soap, burned brake fluid, skunk spray, crushed stink bugs, mold, and decomposing fish heads!”

Bonus points for the exclamation mark. I do not even want to know what this mixture would look like.

–          “Mule urine and soap soaked weeds”

Mule urine is apparently worse, for some reason.

–          “Grapefruit sprinkled with kerosene and sprayed with mint to try and cover the taste”

This one actually really makes sense to me. Cilantro does taste pretty much exactly like that. This is a lot more accurate than my ghost description, though perhaps doesn’t quite capture the grasping darkness of the flavour, like it wants you to feel pain.

–          “A bag of hair with an onion inside, on fire”

Oh God, the smell!

–          “A moldy swimsuit that’s been left to fester in a high school locker”

Another thing that would smell terrible, just like cilantro!

–          “Battery acid mixed with bleach, rubbing alcohol, ammonia, and rancid butter”

Yes, battery acid. Obviously I have not really tasted that, but cilantro does have a certain ‘burny’ quality. Also I completely understand the notes of rancid butter.

keep calm and hate cilantro

Apparently there is a genetic link to dislike of cilantro. It’s something to do with the way your brain responds to the compounds found in cilantro, called aldehydes. Some people find them pleasant, and others are more sensitive the aldehydes, which are also produced in the soap making process and by some insects. That explains the soapy or buggy flavour descriptors. Not everyone interprets aldehydes this way though, which is why there are people out there who live in a world where cilantro is not an enemy.

Not all is lost (unless you ate some cilantro, then maybe your soul is) though – apparently it can become an acquired taste, no matter what your genes say. Taste evolved to evoke strong emotions, to better help people find food and avoid poisons. When we taste food, our brain searches through past experiences, looking for one that the flavour belongs to, and uses that to evaluate whether we should eat the food or not. If one begins eating cilantro in small doses (or any other disliked food), the brain will gradually create new associations, which will hopefully be more positive.

I don’t think I’m brave enough though. If my body is reads the aldehydes and tells me that I’m eating a bug, I’m just going to roll with that.

Any other cilantro nay-sayers? Praisers? Other herbs you cannot stand? I got into a pretty fervent discussion about this with my co-worker, because she has the same hatred for parsley that I do for cilantro. Madness I say! Parsley is clearly the good twin to cilantro’s evil twin!

Also, when I was searching for a ‘say no to cilantro’ picture, I found a terrifying one of Gary Busey (I think? It was very photoshopped) with his face pasted onto a bodybuilder torso and hair where his neck should be. Cilantro is out to get me on all ways, I swear.

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