food

Coriander: Why you hate it, how it's good for you, and the best way to use it.

In the herb world, coriander (or cilantro) is like Kanye West.

Or maybe even, dare we say, Donald Trump. There are, unlike coriander, some people who feel indifferent towards Kanye West, whereas everyone has a strong opinion on Donald Trump.

Coriander, or cilantro as it’s known in the US, is a herb so shrouded in controversy, people either love it or loathe it.

By loathe it we mean the very appearance of it on a plate will make them rage. And don’t even get ’em started on the taste… 

To cilantro-haters, there is nothing in the spice world more despicable.

But as research shows, unlike politics they might not actually have a choice in their stance when it comes to the divisive herb.

The reason some are so downright offended by the taste of coriander might actually be genetic.

To get to the bottom of this theory, we approached food and agricultural scientist and University of Sydney professor, Les Copeland

So, could our dislike of coriander be down to genetics?

Professor Copeland began by explaining the biology behind what determines our palate.

He said that each individual has slight variations to the the genetic make-up of our “sensory perceptions”, which is why some people like the taste of certain foods, and others don’t.

“Sensory perceptions (aroma, taste, visual, etc.) are determined largely by genetics and can vary greatly between individuals,” he said.

“The experience induced by a sensory stimulus depends on the interaction between the sensory signal and a specific receptor.

“The genes that encode the proteins that are the basis of receptors usually have minor variations between individuals; these don’t necessarily affect the overall function of the receptor, but can influence the threshold at which they interact (the amount of signal needed to trigger a response) and/or the intensity of the response.

“This means that there can be considerable diversity in how people experience odours or tastes, or see colours. There has been a lot of research on this and so there is a strong scientific basis.”

He went on to discuss the relevance of taste to the functions of the nose and our sense of smell:

“The flavour of a food is based on aroma, which is experienced in the nose, directly or from the back of the mouth, and accounts for about 80 per cent of the experience (that’s why we don’t have much sensation when we have a cold) and taste, which is perceived by receptors in the mouth.”

How does this affect the taste of coriander?

Interestingly, Professor Copeland explained that the “disagreeable” experience some people have with coriander is due to the release of natural chemicals in the mouth when it is chewed.

“With regard to coriander or cilantro (also known as Chinese parsley) most people sense it as a pleasant herb, although for a significant number of individuals (perhaps as many as 15 per cent) it produces a very disagreeable experience,” he said.

ADVERTISEMENT
coriander plant in garden
Coriander is part of the parsley family.

"The sensory perception of coriander would be mostly due to a complex mixture of natural aroma chemicals being released in the mouth when the herb is chewed. Some of these chemicals will interact with olfactory receptors in the nose and trigger the perception of the coriander aroma."

He went on to theorise that those who loathe coriander could have a specific genetic make-up which sees the natural chemicals released from the herb negatively trigger their existing receptors.

"I don’t know if the receptors for coriander aroma chemicals have been studied, but it would be reasonable to postulate that those individuals who find coriander objectionable have variants in the gene(s) for the receptors that interact with the respective chemical signals."

But, he added, it could be down to an instant association some people have to previous poor experiences eating meals garnished with coriander.

"Most people have aversions to certain foods, which may be due to allergies that can lead to dangerous after-effects on eating, intolerances that can lead to discomfort, association with a bad experience, or simply a strong dislike of the aroma/taste."

"Of course, there is always possibility for conditioned behaviour (e.g. identifying an unpleasant dish with coriander), but in my opinion this is likely to be minor."

Why do so many people hate coriander compared to other herbs?

"It’s possible that the genetic variant that makes coriander seem disagreeable is relatively more common," Professor Copeland said.

He also said those who detest coriander would probably stick to their unfavourable opinion of the herb forever.

"If the effect of coriander is genetically determined, I doubt if a liking for the taste can be developed over time," he added.

ADVERTISEMENT
restaurants really need stop ruining every single meal coriander
If you hate coriander, it's unlikely you'll ever grow to like it.

So, now that we know why people hate coriander, for those who don't (look, we don't judge), let's find out whether the herb actually has any health benefits.

What are the health benefits of coriander? 

Tanya Kumar, accredited practising dietitian at TherapyCare, says yes.

"Coriander is rich in protein and contains iron, Vitamin C and Vitamin K, as well as trace amounts of calcium, phosphorous, potassium, thiamin, niacin and carotene," she explained.

"Coriander also contains anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties, making it great for those living with inflammatory diseases such as arthritis as well as the ability to aid in healing mouth ulcers.

"Interestingly, coriander lowers bad cholesterol while increasing good cholesterol, it’s great for digestion as it promotes bowel regular movement, and it supports healthy liver function.

"It is also a great dietary addition for those living with diabetes as it stimulates the insulin secretion and lowers blood sugar levels."

She also added, rather surprisingly, that coriander seeds are good for menstruation.

This is because the seeds in particular contain high amounts of iron, and when iron decreases in the body, it may raise the menstrual blood flow thus giving out heavy periods.

coriander seeds
Consider a meal with coriander seeds at "that time of the month" to help avoid heavy periods.
ADVERTISEMENT

How can we incorporate coriander into our meals?

If you don't exactly consider yourself a Masterchef at home, never fear.

Incorporating coriander into your weekly food prep is as simple as washing, chopping and throwing in a meal.

"It really compliments lime and chilli and pairs well with fruits, vegetables and spices, and it’s extremely versatile! You can add it to a warm curry or cold smoothie." Tanya said.

"It particularly pairs well with Asian meals. Chop it up and throw it in at the last minute before you take your meal off the heat, or simply add it as a garnish when plating up. To balance the strong flavour, add juice of a lime."

cilantro
Coriander will make your Asian-inspired meals sing.

For best health results and to enhance the flavours of all your dishes, Tanya helpfully suggested these fellow superfood herbs and spices to throw in your dish salt-bae style:

"Cayenne pepper, ginger, garlic, rosemary, fenugreek, cinnamon, sage, peppermint, turmeric and basil."

00:00 / ???