I've read a number of opinions about cilantro. Descriptions from the pro-cilantro side say it tastes like fresh air and has a lemony smell. Descriptions from the anti-cilantro side usually say it tastes like soap and smells like bedbugs.
Are they really tasting the same thing differently, some genetic quirk, or is this merely a fussy interpretation of the same taste?
Odd that some people say celery leaves are a good replacement for cilantro. I've never tasted a large amount of cilantro to know definitively how it tastes to me, but I've tasted celery leaves, and soapy and bitter would definitely describe it. then again the leaves I tasted were yellow for some reason, not green.
I hated it as a teenager and thought it tasted like soap. I can't get enough of it now. although I still notice the flavor that reminded me of soap. It just doesn't bother me. There's some interesting stuff about the associations we have with cilantro in a recent NY Times article by Harold McGee, where he interviews Jay Gottfried, a neuroscientist who studies how the brain analyzes smells. "Dr. Gottfried turned out to be a former cilantrophobe who could speak from personal experience. He said that the great cilantro split probably reflects the primal importance of smell and taste to survival, and the brain’s constant updating of its database of experiences.
The senses of smell and taste evolved to evoke strong emotions, he explained, because they were critical to finding food and mates and avoiding poisons and predators. When we taste a food, the brain searches its memory to find a pattern from past experience that the flavor belongs to. Then it uses that pattern to create a perception of flavor, including an evaluation of its desirability.
If the flavor doesn’t fit a familiar food experience, and instead fits into a pattern that involves chemical cleaning agents and dirt, or crawly insects, then the brain highlights the mismatch and the potential threat to our safety. We react strongly and throw the offending ingredient on the floor where it belongs.
“When your brain detects a potential threat, it narrows your attention,” Dr. Gottfried told me in a telephone conversation. “You don’t need to know that a dangerous food has a hint of asparagus and sorrel to it. You just get it away from your mouth.”
But he explained that every new experience causes the brain to update and enlarge its set of patterns, and this can lead to a shift in how we perceive a food.
“I didn’t like cilantro to begin with,” he said. “But I love food, and I ate all kinds of things, and I kept encountering it. My brain must have developed new patterns for cilantro flavor from those experiences, which included pleasure from the other flavors and the sharing with friends and family. That’s how people in cilantro-eating countries experience it every day.”
The full article is at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/14/dining/14curious.html
So maybe those of us who have developed into cilantro lovers just started having more and more positive experiences with it along the way? Does this mean I could eventually tolerate liver too? Ugh.
I think taste is both genetic and biochemical. For instance, I never did like carrots much. I don't think they are bad, but just meh. But one time, after a 2 week camping trip with intense hiking and exercise, we went into town to a restaurant and the restaurant put out carrots and celery sticks as snacks. For some reason, I had the urge to eat one and so I did. And the taste was like the best taste in the entire world. I ate a total ton of them until they were all gone and I still wanted more. If there had been a store on the way home, I would have stopped and bought more and been eating them in the car as I was driving. SOmething about all that exercise. I guess I just needed something in that carrot really badly and so my brain found a way to get me to eat em by making them taste good. In fact, I have noticed after long camping trips that my tastes do tend to change quite a bit at times as to what I do and do not want to eat and as to what tastes best.
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