Monday, September 25, 2006

What does soap taste like?

I love cilantro. I love it so much I put it in just about everything I can, within reason, of course. It’s the definitive flavor in so many Tex-Mex dishes, that its absence is sorely felt if omitted by one who doesn’t quite feel the same as I. Yes, that’s correct: not everyone loves cilantro. Matter of fact, almost 40% of the population believes cilantro tastes like soap. It’s true; I’ve seen some hard data on this phenomenon, and while I can’t understand it, I just have to accept it.

I grew up with cilantro—it was probably one of the first leafy, green things I’d eat without any argument. Everyone in my family grows it, and my uncle in Austin has taken to spreading the seeds all over the city in hopes they will take root and cilantro plants will flourish all over--like bluebonnets or Indian paintbrush. We call him Johnny Cilantroseed. So when you have a naive worldview like myself, if I like something, then everyone else must like it, right? Wrong.

My first brush with someone not liking cilantro was when I made my favorite salsa for a friend. This guy had a voracious appetite and he devoured and raved about everything I cooked, until I offered him the hot sauce. I placed the bowl in front of him, pushed over a basket of chips and asked him to try it. He dipped his chip, took a bite and said four words: “It tastes like cilantro.” I brightened: “Yes! Yes! I used almost two cups. Isn’t it great?” He was silent for a few moments. Then he asked for a glass of water, politely excused himself, and, well, I haven’t seen him since. I guess he doesn’t like cilantro.

More recently, Melissa made my recipe for hot sauce and conceded on her blog that she didn’t include the recommended cilantro because it tastes like soap to her. Now, I don’t care if someone likes or doesn’t like cilantro--to me it’s just their loss if they don’t. But actually, it may be more than just a matter of preference: some say that there’s an actual genetic predisposition toward thinking cilantro tastes like soap. Imagine that! Those poor people, how they must suffer.

So what’s your verdict? Soap or not? And this is the most perplexing thing of all to me: what does soap taste like and how do you know? Were you prone to say naughty words as a child?

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35 comments:

Ros said...

No, cilantro definitely tastes nothing like soap. I know this because of a prank played on me in my fresher year :(.

Someone I know claimed ginger tasted like soap but that's because she'd tried to take a bite out of a bit of raw root.

Luisa said...

I'm one of those people that hates cilantro - but soap isn't the word that comes to mind when I think about the taste. It's more like rat poison. How do I know what rat poison tastes like? I exaggerate, of course, but cilantro really tastes like awfulness to me, like harsh chemicals, something man-made, something that definitely should not be chopped up fine and put in my food.

I read that not liking cilantro is similar to the not-smelling-asparagus-in-your-pee thing - it's an enzyme missing in your tastebuds or nasal cavity. Who knows! I wish it weren't so - I bet I'd like Mexican food a whole lot more... ;)

Julie said...

I have the cilantro loving gene, or enzyme, or whatever it is that causes some people to love cilantro. I still remember very clearly being amazed by the taste and fragrance of cilantro the first time I had it which was in a soup at a Thai restaurant.

I also remember being amazed by the first person I met who violently dislked cilantro. She claimed it tasted like "wet bathing suit smelled" which seemed completely bizarre to me at the time but now I have realized that it's not an uncommon sort of sentiment. It's not loved by everyone.

vlb5757 said...

If cilantro tastes like soap, it means that you are allergic to it in some degree. There are sites that talk about it. A client of mine also said that she went to the doctor and he told her the same thing. I thought that was odd. I love cilantro so I would be so bummed if I was allergic!

The County Clerk said...

So... how does everyone know what soap tastes like? I have some soup (left over from my married life) with so many "food" things in it that it probably tastes good.

Honey Oatmeal Soap made from Goat's Milk?

I didn't make that up! I COULDN'T make that up.

http://www.honeyoatmealsoap.com/index1.html )

I think I'd RATHER have Honey Oatmeal Goat Milk Soap grated and sprinkled on my enchiladas...

...rather than cilantro.

But that's just me.

Anyone have any Honey Goat Oatmeal Soap Recipes? I'm hungry.

The County Clerk said...

Now that i think about it, maybe there is a market for gourmet CILANTRO black-bean soap?

Hmmnn

Danielle said...

Sometimes I feel like the only person in the world who neither loves nor hates cilantro.

christine (myplateoryours) said...

Interesting. I have been both a hater and a lover. The first time I remember having cilantro was in some soup at a pan-Asian restaurant and I thought it tasted like -- of course -- soap. But I have since found that I love it and and I really do -- in salsa, in chutneys, in salads, even in soup. My theory, for what it is worth is that the big fat green leaves that cilatro first explodes with are delicious, but as the plant ages and gets close to bolting it sends up these frondsy leaves that are different from the early ones and they still do taste soapy to me.

WhiteTrashBBQ said...

I'm not a big fan of cilantro. I would say in proper proportions, in its proper place, it's OK, but I've never had a dish where I said to myself, "self this would be better with a little cilantro."

And yes, it does taste a bit like soap.

But I don't like cucumbers either.

go figure.

Homesick Texan said...

Ros--What a funny story. Thanks for the first-hand knowledge of what soap actually tastes like.

Luisa--Rat poison?!? Your feelings are strong! But you shouldn't think you can't like Mexican food just because you don't like cilanto. Trust me, there are lots of excellent dishes that are cilanto-free.

Julie--"Wet bathing suit"? That's a new one! But yes, it's an excellent addition to Thai food. Cilantro and coconut milk go together like peanut butter and jelly.

Vib5757--From a scientific perspective, that make sense. I can't stand canteloupe and it turns out I'm allergic to it.

County Clerk--I love your idea for a cilantro-black bean soap. If you ever wanted to get in the soap business I reckon you'd have a hit on your hands (no pun intended).

Danielle--Ambivalence can be good.

Christine--I read about experiences like yours-people's palates changing over the years. And that's an interesting thought: that it's the about-to-die cilantro that's soapy, not the fresh leaves.

White Trash BBQ--You don't like cucumbers? How can you not have pickles with your bbq?

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

In the past, I found that cilantro tasted bizarre; a bit like washing powder or soap. I didn't like it much, but now I love that herb! As I'm a big fan of Asian, Middle Eastern and Tex-Mex food, I have to like it, otherwise I would not be able to eat such yummy specialities...

melissa mcgee said...

well, paint me purple and call me an eggplant.

i KNEW it wasn't just me!!! all this time i've been proclaiming that cilantro tastes like a mouth full of ivory soap - only to find out that i'm not alone. well, i gotta tell ya, that makes me feel A LOT LESS CRAZY about the soap thing.

Hank - actually, i'm a soapmaker - the natural kind, from scratch, with lye. every once in a while, believe it or not, i have to taste a bar of soap to test for it's alkalinity. so that's how I know what soap tastes like!

and i've made oatmeal & honey goat's milk soap before, many times. it's a bit like having a mouthful of cilantro. ;)

Yvo said...

haha... I grew up eating Asian food and always, always, the cilantro had to go. Dunno about it being genetic because my cilantro would go... right onto my brother's plate. he loves the stuff. I also don't like parsley. HOWEVER, major caveat here, I can eat it (and enjoy it) in my brother in law's homemade salsa. it's not 2 cups for sure, but it's there and I taste it but with it broken down/"cooked" in the lemon juice he uses, it's bearable.

I also used to hate scallions but now adore them lightly cooked. (I do love veggies in general though.) I don't know. And cilantro never tasted like soap to me, just bitter. Oh, is that what soap tastes like? Hm... I HAVE tasted soap before (my sister convinced me that it was candy, and another time in a bubble bath I thought a bubble looked particularly appetizing... hey, I was really little ok?!) but I don't think I ever related the two tastes.

WhiteTrashBBQ said...

Pickles with BBQ? What are you from Texas or something? :-)

Sorry, I don't like pickles unless they're absurdly sweet or spicy. Anything else tastes like a cucumber.

And I don't like cucumbers.

Harry said...

I had so much cilantro in 1974 when I lived in Cuernavaca that I guess I burned out on it. Just lately, though, I've softened a bit and will add a bit when called for and make up the difference with parsley. Soapy? Well, I guess that's accurate. It's just so overpowering that nothing else comes through. Check out the blog: http://www.ihatecilantro.com/

Hannah said...

I'm another than used to hate cilantro, but converted.

The first occasion was at a Mexican restaurant when I was a kid, and their salsa. I thought they hadn't rinsed out their bowls well, and still had soap in them... for the life of me, I couldn't figure out why my mom was still eating it...

Anymore, however, if my burrito isn't LOADED with the stuff, I feel cheated :) I adore it in soups, tacos, salsas, pretty much anything.

Sam said...

I've encountered this phenomenon, too. Everyone I've known with the cilantro-hating gene also seems to be of Irish ancestry. Has anyone else noticed this too?

I love the site, btw. I'm a Texan stuck in Indiana.

bigdenbear said...

I love Mexican food. Grew up on it, in fact, long before the primary ingredient for flavor began to be soap-weed.

That's right - cilantro is an abomination of nature. It's terrible. It literally destroys the flavor of anything with which it comes in contact, due to it's horrid, completely overpowering, soap-suds taste.

And really, you've never drunk from a glass that wasn't rinsed completely? Surely you know what soap tastes like. And if you don't, just taste cilantro.

YECH.

Gentle said...

I've heard that cilantro is the world's most commonly used herb (they use it a lot in India and China, so...)

Whether or not that's true, I'd wager that it's probably the world's 2nd most controversial herb. It'd be the #1 most controversial if weed were legal.

Also, I'm making a movie about cilantro.

MissE said...

i can't seem to get ENOUGH cilantro into my diet!!

I hated it with a white-hot torching passion as a child, but now I find I have to be stopped from putting it into absolutely everything....

i have heard the soap thing quite a bit from folks here in Seattle...

anon.amos said...

A particularly variety of cilantro, with larger leaves, and slightly lighter in color than cilantro from the Indian subcontinent(this the dominant cilantro of east asia) tastes exactly like soap to me, and to some other people I've encountered. Indian cilantro meanwhile is quite tasty and completely non-soap like to me.

As for why someone might immediately think of soap, most people have had soap enter their mouth at least once, and even if not, smell is ofen used as an estimate of taste.

Anonymous said...

First time I tasted cilanto was in a Mexican restaurant when I was about 10 years old. I tasted the salsa and ate no more. It tasted like soap! Ugly! 30years later I made several salsa recipies and one called for cilantro. I identified the 'soap taste'when I bought cilantro. I hate it! and I am predominitly Irish! Go figure. It was a relief when I finally found people who disliked it also. My grown granddaughter hates it as badly as me and my Hispanic heritage friend does as well.

topacio said...

I don't like cilantro because my mother put it in every "fresh" and "salad-y" dish she could think of. I don't think it tastes like SOAP, though. More like the smell gets to me than anything else. As for the taste, it's just....not pleasant to my tongue at all.

Anonymous said...

It is so amazing to me to find out I'm not the only one!! I cannot stand the taste of cilantro. I've often described it a cross between soap and gasoline.

jb8363 said...

The first time I tasted cilantro, I thought that someone didn't rinse the pot well and it still had soap in it.....never touched the stuff after that.

Anonymous said...

When I first was exposed to cilantro, it was in a salsa at a party and I thought we were all going to die, that it had somehow been tainted or had gone bad somehow, nobody tasted what I tasted, they all thought I was kidding. NEVER in my life had I experienced such an unpleasant taste! It is almost like that part of you that tastes something poisonous and reactively spits it out. SOAP definately, also crossed with sucking on the live end of a 9 volt battery while chewing aluminum foil. I shudder to think of it. I have tried to sample it many times since then to see if freshness or preperation had anything to do with it, but alas, it just makes me cringe. I am definately that 40% or so of people that can't stand it. BUT I do not dislike any of the other associted vegies. Love brocolli, cukes, eggplant, you name it. Go Figure. Just glad i'm not alone in this!

Matt in NH

Anonymous said...

the first time I encountered cilantro I did not even know it. It was about three years ago at a mexican restaurant. My boyfriend and I were eating a chicken dish and I have never gone back to eat there because the food tasted like soap and I thought the cooks did not wash out the dishes well and left soap in them.

Not until this week did I learn that cilantro, commonly used in Mexican dishes is what I was tasting and that some people have a genetic predisposition that makes it taste like soap, to me just like ivory soap. Glad to know that it was just not my imagination. I love Mexican but now I know to make sure that NO CILANTRO TOUCHES MY FOOD!!!

radish said...

I cannot begin to describe to you my cilantro love - it is one of my favorite flavors of all time. I could write poems, sonnets (technically poems too) about cilantro and I wish everyone in the world loved it because it is such a bright note of flavor in the food - it makes food "happy" tasting (if that even makes sense). I've a friend who tells me cilantro dislike is genetic and to many people it tastes like tin foil - ew - he being one of those people. I've even made a mexican themed Bloody Mary with cilantro! If you make those fish tacos, I'll bring some cake, I promise!

jitterro said...

I am willing to eat cilantro in small amounts, but I know I don't like it. However, it doesn't taste like soap to me.
It just tastes like cilantro.

Airencracken said...

Cilantro is great. I like it quite a bit.

Kristin said...

My boyfriend hates cilantro. So does everyone else in his family. They are from Kansas and I am from Texas. My family likes cilantro but they don't love it as much as me. I think it IS genetic and possibly also geographically related. His grandmother wanted us to pick a restaurant to eat at once. I suggested Chuy's. She said, "Do they put cilantro in their salsa?" My response, "doesn't everyone?" "Well I don't want to eat there." They pico de gallo "pico de yucky." I never understood.

Anonymous said...

I never liked Cilantro, but love all other herbs. A friend of mine is a Doctor and told me that I am 1 in 10000 people who have or have not an enzyme in their system that
rejects the flavor of Cilantro....

Anteater said...

I can tolerate cilantro but the coriander seed, where cilantro comes from, tastes soapy to me. Actually, since I brush my teeth with soap at times, the soap tastes milder than the coriander seed. Once I ate an ant, and that ant tasted a lot like a coriander seed. So it's an anty flavor, hahaha, and it tastes gross.

herecomesrachel said...

Hey, so I know that this article is two years late, but I hope it helps some of you nay-sayers realize that the only things cilantro-love requires is time and patience!

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/14/dining/14curious.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=cilantro%20soap&st=cse

Jolene said...

i guess i am a little backwards. my step-dad is mexican, so i ate cilantro as a child. mom loves it; she's swedish. i'm half italian, so i guess i'm a swedish meatball, lol. anyhow, i liked cilantro as a kid, now it tastes like soap to me too (i'm 42). tried growing it myself & still tasted soapy. not sure if maybe the soil needs to be amended with something or if you need to eat the larger leaves before it gets frond-like and ready to bolt - like a previous entry stated. i'm willing to try again though.

wonder if i would like the papalo you mention in the cemita sandwich?

btw - i am also one of those that like the smell of skunk, old barns, garages (oil, motors, etc) and gasoline. not sure if it is missing enzyme or allergy or something else.

all i know is i do want to like cilantro, perhaps i could temper it into my recipes in small amounts at first? also - does the aversion also appear if the cilantro is cooked into a sauce, only when raw or both? i'll have to try it cooked & see...

Jolene in MN
p.s. I should've been born a Texan. Been to El Paso & Austin & had to be dragged back to MN kicking and screaming... :)

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