Archive for January, 2011

Cilantro: What makes it taste so good or so bad?

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

The leaves of the coriander plant are referred to as cilantro and are widely used in Mexican, Asian and Indian foods. Over the years I’ve frequently heard friends comment on the taste of cilantro. Most have said they like it, adds a fresh citrus taste, etc. But every once in a while I hear people say they can’t stand even a small amount. The taste is described mostly as soap but I’ve also heard metallic, moldy, and that it even tastes like stink bugs, although I for one have never tasted a stink bug. A quick search yields a number of blogs and postings where the detractors pull no punches about their hatred for these innocent little leaves. And surveys claim the percentage of people who dislike the taste ranges between 30% and 50%.

So I was wondering why there can be such a disparity of opinions. A number of references attribute this to genetic differences between people and that the people who really hate the taste are “Super Tasters”.   These super tasters seem to have a higher number of taste receptors on their tongues. I think my taste has been ruined by too many days spent around smelly chemicals since I feel cilantro has very little flavor.

In the ripe coriander fruits, or seeds, the content of essential oil is low (typically, less than 1%). The oil consists of about 55% linalool (50 to 60%) and about 20% terpenes (pinenes, γ-terpinene, myrcene, camphene, phellandrenes, α-terpinene, limonene, cymene).

It is believed that the cilantro aroma (from the leaves) is created by about a half-dozen aldehydes which are fragments of fat molecules. Similar aldehydes are also found in soaps and lotions and, interestingly, bugs. The taste of the fresh herb leaves and unripe seeds is due to an essential oil (0.1%) that is almost entirely made up of aliphatic aldehydes of 10 to 16 carbon atoms. There are both saturated (decanal) and α,β unsaturated (trans-2-tridecenal) aldehydes.

So there you have it. Aliphatic aldehydes are what makes cilantro taste like soap, mold or stink bugs. Me, I’m fat, dumb and happy being a not-so-super taster.

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