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Tuesday, October 04, 2011

"Cilantro - love it or loathe it"

This is so interesting to me, because I'm firmly in the hate column on this popular herb (though I had no idea that my distaste was so widely shared).  Sadly, it's used ubiquitously in two of my favorite cuisines - Vietnamese and Mexican.

. . . But what is it about cilantro that some people find so intensely offensive? To begin to find out, Wysocki has used gas chromoatography, a machine that uses heat to separates a complex mixture of molecules -- like cilantro -- piece by piece, allowing researchers to identify each individual compound, by using both the machine and their own noses. The GC, as it's called, warms the cilantro, and as it heats up, that "soapy" smell is released. About 10 minutes later, the pleasantly herbaceous cilantro smell is emitted -- but the typical cilantro hater still can't smell it. 
"What we think might be happening is the person who hates cilantro is, in fact, detecting the soapy odor. But what they seem to be missing is the nice, aromatic, green component," says Wysocki, who thinks the smell of cilantro is quite pleasant. "It’s possible that they have a mutated or even an absent receptor gene for the receptor protein that would interact with the very pleasant smelling compound."
Hear that, cilantro haters? You're mutants, says a scientist. (We kid, we kid.)
As the theory goes -- and Wysocki is quick to remind that this is still speculative -- cilantrophobes may not be able to pick up the scent of a compound called dodecenal, which gives the cilantro that lovely fresh scent we cilantrophiles know so well. It's even possible, Wysocki allows, that those soap-smellers may have something called specific anosmia, which is the lack of perception of an odor for a specific compound, when the smell is otherwise intact.


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