Culinary sophistication is no guarantee of immunity from cilantrophobia. In a television interview in 2002, Larry King asked Julia Child which foods she hated. She responded: “Cilantro and arugula I don’t like at all. They’re both green herbs, they have kind of a dead taste to me.”
“So you would never order it?” Mr. King asked.
“Never,” she responded. “I would pick it out if I saw it and throw it on the floor.”
Ms. Child had plenty of company for her feelings about cilantro (arugula seems to be less offensive). The authoritative
Oxford Companion to Food notes that the word “coriander” is said to derive from the Greek word for bedbug, that cilantro aroma “has been compared with the smell of bug-infested bedclothes” and that “Europeans often have difficulty in overcoming their initial aversion to this smell.” There’s an “I Hate Cilantro” Facebook page with hundreds of fans and an I Hate Cilantro blog.
Yet cilantro is happily consumed by many millions of people around the world, particularly in Asia and Latin America. The Portuguese put fistfuls into soups. What is it about cilantro that makes it so unpleasant for people in cultures that don’t much use it?
[Click to continue reading The Curious Cook – Why Cilantro Tastes Like Soap, for Some – NYTimes.com]
Ancient and medieval cooks used cilantro or “fresh coriander” extensively, but Renaissance cooks disparaged it as a “taste of the old”. Tastes that are pleasant are tightly linked into emotional centers in the brain, probably for evolutionary reasons.3
A brief history lesson from Wikipedia
Coriander grows wild over a wide area of the Near East and southern Europe, prompting the comment, “It is hard to define exactly where this plant is wild and where it only recently established itself.” Fifteen desiccated mericarps were found in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B level of the Nahal Hemel Cave in Israel, which may be the oldest archeological find of coriander. About half a litre of coriander mericarps were recovered from the tomb of Tutankhamun, and because this plant does not grow wild in Egypt, Zohary and Hopf interpret this find as proof that coriander was cultivated by the ancient Egyptians. The Bible mentions coriander in Exodus 16:31: “And the house of Israel began to call its name Manna: and it was round like coriander seed, and its taste was like that of flat cakes made with honey.”
Coriander seems to have been cultivated in Greece since at least the second millennium BC. One of the Linear B tablets recovered from Pylos refers to the species as being cultivated for the manufacture of perfumes, and it appears that it was used in two forms: as a spice for its seeds and as a herb for the flavor of its leaves.This appears to be confirmed by archaeological evidence from the same period: the large quantities of the species retrieved from an Early Bronze Age layer at Sitagroi in Macedonia could point to cultivation of the species at that time.
Coriander was brought to the British colonies in North America in 1670 and was one of the first spices cultivated by early settlers
[Click to continue reading Coriander – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia]
But you can convince yourself and your taste buds that cilantro is worthy, if you want.
Cilantro itself can be reshaped to make it easier to take. A Japanese study published in January suggested that crushing the leaves will give leaf enzymes the chance to gradually convert the aldehydes into other substances with no aroma.
Sure enough, I’ve found cilantro pestos to be lotion-free and surprisingly mild. They actually have deeper roots in the Mediterranean than the basil version, and can be delicious on pasta and breads and meats. If you’re looking to work on your cilantro patterns, pesto might be the place to start.
- shiitake maki with avocado and cilantro is a great favorite of ours [↩]
- which I define as someone who loves food, isn’t afraid to try new things, isn’t hesitant to spend a little more for quality food, etc. [↩]
- if an ancient food adventurer ate something that caused a violent reaction, this item would be avoided in future. We have the same reactions today [↩]