Soapy Tasting Cilantro: Why Cilantro Tastes Soapy

Just as some folks pronounce certain words in different ways, we all experience a disparate taste to some foods, particularly cilantro. It seems there are no two ways about it; you either love cilantro’s flavor or you hate it, and many people say cilantro tastes like soap. So the question is, does your cilantro taste like soap and if so, what are the reasons why cilantro tastes soapy?

Pungent Cilantro Plants

To my taste buds, cilantro tastes like a combination of fresh, mild, green-tasting parsley with a citrus zest. To my mother’s taste buds, cilantro plants are pungent, nasty tasting herbs that she refers to as “yucky soapy tasting cilantro.”

While this difference in preferences only requires the omission of cilantro from any of the meals I serve to my Mom (grumble, grumble), it really does make me wonder why cilantro tastes like soap to her but not to me.

Why Cilantro Tastes Soapy

Coriandrum sativum, known as either cilantro or coriander, contains several aldehydes in its leafy foliage. A description of “soapy tasting cilantro” is the result of the presence of these aldehydes. Aldehydes are chemical compounds produced when making soap, which some folks describe cilantro as tasting akin to, as well as by some insects, like stink bugs.

Our interpretation of how cilantro tastes is somewhat genetic. A description of soapy tasting versus pleasant can be attributed to two olfactory receptor genes. This was discovered by comparing the genetic code of tens of thousands of individuals who either liked or disliked the flavor of cilantro. Despite this compelling data, it was also found that carrying the gene did not necessarily result in disliking cilantro. Here, nature versus nurture comes into play. If you have been routinely exposed to cilantro in your diet, chances are good that gene or no, you have acclimated to the flavor.

The leafy green portion of the coriander plants, cilantro is a delicate widely used herb in cuisines around the globe — just not in my Mom’s house. Because it is a delicate herb, most recipes call for using it fresh to maximize the bright aroma and flavor. It’s possible for many people to begin to tolerate, or even enjoy, the flavor of cilantro where previously it tasted of soap.

If you want to “turn” the taste buds of a cilantro hater, try crushing the tender leaves. By bruising the leaves via mincing, crushing or pulverizing, enzymes are released which break down the aldehydes that are an affront to some. Cooking will also reduce the offensive flavor, again by breaking down the aldehydes and allowing other, more pleasant, aromatic compounds to shine.

Growing Cilantro: A Complete Guide on How to Plant, Grow, & Harvest Cilantro

Ame lives off-the-grid on her beautiful farm in Falmouth, Kentucky. She has been gardening organically for over 30 years and has grown vegetables, fruits, herbs, flowers, and ornamentals. She also participates in Farmers Markets, CSA, and mentors young farmers. Ame is the founder and director of Fox Run Environmental Education Center where she teaches environmental education programs in self-sufficiency, herbal medicine, green building, and wildlife conservation.

I love growing cilantro because it means you get to have two herbs in one. You can harvest the tasty leaves first, and then later in the season come the citrusy seeds.

People typically have a love or hate relationship with cilantro. Some describe the leaves as having a grassy, spicy flavor, but others say it tastes like soap or even crushed bugs.

Reportedly the answer to whether you like the flavor or not lies in your genetic makeup. Odor-detecting genes relate the smell of cilantro to either fresh grass or soap. Up to 14% of people think it smells gross. Personally, I can’t imagine my favorite coconut soup without it.

Cilantro (Coriander): How to Grow

How to Grow Cilantro at Home

Cilantro is one of the most versatile herbs you can easily grow at home. Its leaves and seeds can be used in many Mexican, Middle Eastern, Indian, and Asian dishes. While the flavor of this herb can be quite polarizing, it’s still a great addition to any herb garden.

By following just a few simple tips you can plant, care for, and grow your own cilantro plants at home. Read on to find out more!

Cilantro at a Glance

Cilantro are famous herbs for Asian delicacies.

Cilantro or Coriandrum sativum is an annual herb native from Southern Europe and Northern Africa to Southwestern Asia. It is also called coriander and Chinese parsley. This is a member of the Apiaceae family of plants and is related to carrots, parsley, and celery.

This soft plant can grow up 6 to 10 inches tall and can spread anywhere between 4 inches and 10 inches depending on the variety you have.

It has variably-shaped leaves with those at the base being broadly lobed while those located higher up the plant are slender and feathered. It has small white or pale pink flowers and globular fruits (

These herbs are relatively quick to mature. You can start picking leaves within 50 to 55 days of starting seed. If you want to harvest the Coriander seeds it produces after flowering, you might have to wait up to 100 days since it typically bolts to seed when the days start to lengthen and the temperatures rise in the summer.

One of the most unique things about cilantro is that different people may perceive the taste of its leaves differently. Some people enjoy it’s refreshing, lemony, or lime-like flavor while others don’t quite agree with its pungent and soapy taste and smell.

My Mother tastes it as soap, yet I nor any of my kids or hubby taste it that way. Except I told the oldest son and now he’s upset cause he thinks it tastes like soap – the power of suggestion is incredible! lol

Planting Cilantro

How easy is it to plant cilantro in your vegetable and herb garden?

Cilantro is best grown by directly sowing seeds in the garden. This is because it can germinate in just 7 to 10 days so it doesn’t need to be started indoors under grow lights. Plus, it develops a taproot which means it doesn’t like to be transplanted.

This herb prefers a neutral pH of 6.2 to 6.8 but it can grow in any rich soil. Since it is a fast-growing plant, make sure to give it lots of organic matter to feed on.

Sow cilantro seeds 1/4-inch deep and about 1 foot apart directly in the garden in late spring or early summer. If you want to have a steady supply of cilantro throughout its growing season, succession plant a new batch of cilantro every two weeks.

Cilantro is a cooler-weather herb and it grows best in partial shade. However, if you keep it moist enough, it can handle more sun in the early spring and in the fall. but, be careful to avoid overwatering these plants to so you don’t end up with root rot and waterlogging.

Caring for Cilantro Plants

If you’re growing cilantro for its leaves, you’ll want to works towards maximizing its foliage. Pinch back young cilantro plants up to an inch or longer to encourage bushier growth. As soon as the top part of the main stem starts to develop flower buds or seed pods, cut them off to redirect the plant’s energy into leaf growth.

As we discussed earlier, cilantro starts to bolt once the weather gets hotter. Once it sets seeds, the plant will quickly degrade and it will self-sow. Alternatively, you can gather the seed pods to harvest the Coriander seeds they produce.

Harvesting and Using Cilantro

You can start harvesting the leaves once the plants are about 6 inches tall.

The great thing about cilantro is you get two kinds of ingredients from just one plant. You can start harvesting the leaves once the plants are about 6 inches tall.

Simply pinch off portions of the upper stem and use it fresh in your recipes. If you want to store the leaves, it’s best to freeze them since they lose all their flavor once they dry out.

The seeds – Coriander, on the other hand, can be harvested if you allow the cilantro plant to flower. Once the flowers have dried, you’ll be left with seedpods. Simply pull them off the plant and set them out to dry for 5 to 7 days before storing in an airtight container.

You can also find gardening products I use in my videos here

Cilantro Haters, It’s Not Your Fault

FOOD partisanship doesn’t usually reach the same heights of animosity as the political variety, except in the case of the anti-cilantro party. The green parts of the plant that gives us coriander seeds seem to inspire a primal revulsion among an outspoken minority of eaters.

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?

Some people may be genetically predisposed to dislike cilantro, according to often-cited studies by Charles J. Wysocki of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. But cilantrophobe genetics remain little known and aren’t under systematic investigation. Meanwhile, history, chemistry and neurology have been adding some valuable pieces to the puzzle.

The coriander plant is native to the eastern Mediterranean, and European cooks used both seeds and leaves well into medieval times.

Helen Leach, an anthropologist at the University of Otago in New Zealand, has traced unflattering remarks about cilantro flavor and the bug etymology — not endorsed by modern dictionaries — back to English garden books and French farming books from around 1600, when medieval dishes had fallen out of fashion. She suggests that cilantro was disparaged as part of a general effort to define the new European table against the flavors of the old.

Modern cilantrophobes tend to describe the offending flavor as soapy rather than buggy. I don’t hate cilantro, but it does sometimes remind me of hand lotion. Each of these associations turns out to make good chemical sense.

Flavor chemists have found that cilantro aroma is created by a half-dozen or so substances, and most of these are modified fragments of fat molecules called aldehydes. The same or similar aldehydes are also found in soaps and lotions and the bug family of insects.

Soaps are made by fragmenting fat molecules with strongly alkaline lye or its equivalent, and aldehydes are a byproduct of this process, as they are when oxygen in the air attacks the fats and oils in cosmetics. And many bugs make strong-smelling, aldehyde-rich body fluids to attract or repel other creatures.

The published studies of cilantro aroma describe individual aldehydes as having both cilantrolike and soapy qualities. Several flavor chemists told me in e-mail messages that they smell a soapy note in the whole herb as well, but still find its aroma fresh and pleasant.

So the cilantro aldehydes are olfactory Jekyll-and-Hydes. Why is it only the evil, soapy side that shows up for cilantrophobes, and not the charming one?

I posed this question to Jay Gottfried, a neuroscientist at Northwestern University who studies how the brain perceives 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.”

“So I began to like cilantro,” he said. “It can still remind me of soap, but it’s not threatening anymore, so that association fades into the background, and I enjoy its other qualities. On the other hand, if I ate cilantro once and never willingly let it pass my lips again, there wouldn’t have been a chance to reshape that perception.”

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.


Cilantro is old. Over 2,000 years ago, the herb could be found flourishing in the famous Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Ancient Hebrews used cilantro in their traditional Passover meal. Coriander, a spice that comes from the dried seeds of the same plant, even makes an appearance as an aphrodisiac in "Tales of the Arabian Nights."

  • Cilantro is a zesty herb belonging to the carrot family with roots that go back to ancient times and traditions.
  • Over 2,000 years ago, the herb could be found flourishing in the famous Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

Can you eat cilantro seeds?

To store coriander seeds, cut off the seed heads when the plant begins to turn brown and put them in a paper bag. Hang the bag until the plant dries and the seeds fall off. You can then store the seeds in sealed containers. To store cilantro leaves, you can either freeze or dry them.

Secondly, what parts of cilantro are edible? All parts of the plant are edible, but only the dried fruit (or seeds) and leaves are eaten. The look of cilantro –broad leaves and thin, fibrous stems -- also gave it the name Chinese parsley.

Regarding this, are cilantro flowers edible?

Cilantro is a soft leafy herb that is entirely edible. It grows 50 cm tall and produces petite whitish-pink flowers in clusters called umbels. The blossoms have a lacy decorative appearance with minimal aroma. On the palate they taste like a milder version of the Cilantro leaves.

What does a cilantro seed look like?

Cilantro seeds are round, brown and very light weight. They don't look like they'd be viable, they look dried out and dead. Once you've collected cilantro seeds from the garden, allow them to dry completely before storing seeds.


Cilantro doesn't keep fresh for long. Don't wash it until you are ready to use it or it will degrade swiftly. To keep it fresh for up to a week, place the stems in a glass of water and cover the top loosely with a plastic bag. Keep the cilantro cool by storing it in the refrigerator. Then you can cut off the leaves as needed.

You can freeze cilantro if you blanch it first to deactivate the enzymes that will decompose it. Dip a clean bunch of cilantro into boiling water just until it wilts, then plunge it into a bowl of ice water. Pat the blanched cilantro dry. Strip the leaves off the stems and transfer to freezer bags and freeze. Spread the leaves thinly in the bags and store flat. This will enable you to break off just what you need when you want to use some of a bag of frozen herbs.

You can also freeze cilantro oil or pesto to preserve the cilantro flavor. After you've blanched, chilled, and patted your cilantro sprigs dry, coarsely chop them—tender stems and all. Put them in a blender or food processor and puree, adding enough extra-virgin olive oil to make a smooth, somewhat liquid paste. You can also use the blanched leaves to make your favorite pesto recipe before freezing.

Pour or spoon your oil or pesto into freezer bags. Put in just enough to cover the surface of the bag when it is horizontal. Freeze flat (horizontal). What you'll end up with is a pesto "pancake" from which you can break off just what you need.

Alternatively, fill ice cube trays with your cilantro oil or pesto. Freeze, then pop out the cubes and transfer them to freezer containers (or freezer bags). Each cube will be approximately 1 tablespoon of herbal oil or pesto.

Instead of freezing, make cilantro compound butter. Use 1/4 cup of finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves in a basic herb butter recipe.

Cilantro salt is another way to keep cilantro flavor handy for use. Finely chop a bunch of fresh cilantro. Include the stems and take some help from the food processor to mince them. Measure the chopped cilantro by loosely packing it into a measuring cup. For every four parts fresh, chopped cilantro (by volume), add one part kosher or other coarse, non-iodized salt. Mix well and store in tightly covered glass jars in the refrigerator for up to one year. Use anywhere cilantro flavor is welcome, leaving out any other salt called for in the recipe.

Watch the video: Why Does Cilantro Taste Like Soap?

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