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Are you a coriander hater?

Are you a coriander hater?

Text and images by Joanna Yeo @ Makansutra

Chinese parsley, also known as coriander or cilantro, is known to draw two very different reactions – attraction or repulsion (nothing in the middle). Did you know that your love, and especially your disdain for it, can be attributed to genetic factors?

A popular herb of choice that is commonly used as garnish in soups and stir fries, coriander lovers say it has a refreshing and lemon-like taste that makes it a good complement for most dishes from your favourite fish noodle to bak kut teh. Coriander enemies, on the other hand, find it ‘soapy’ or ‘rotten’ and can’t wait to take flight at first smell.

Behavioural neuroscientist Dr. Charles J. Wysoki suggests that the reason for coriander haters’ repugnance can be traced back to their DNA, according to an article by the Wall Street Journal. In a study to test this hypothesis, Dr. Charles asked pairs of identical and fraternal twins to rate the ‘pleasantness’ of coriander. In identical twins, where the genetic makeup is identical, more than 80% of them gave ratings that were similar to their siblings, while in fraternal twins, only 42% of them did.

Different individuals have different perceptions of taste

Associate Professor Prakash Kumar from the Department of Biological Sciences, National University of Singapore, explains that the taste of a food is made up of multiple chemicals that require a collective of specific taste receptors in order to give an individual the perception of the ‘correct’ taste. In his words, ‘different individuals have different versions of the same genes, which in turn translate into differently tuned taste receptors’. In order to have the perception of the ‘correct taste’ of a food, a specific group of taste receptors need to be present to ‘identify’ the incoming chemicals that constitute its taste. In short, different taste receptors translate the same thing differently.

Prof.Prakash further elaborates that pungent foods have more complex chemical makeup, therefore requiring more taste receptors. With more receptors required for taste perception, the chances of them being differently tuned are higher. Hence, for such foods that have a stronger and sharper taste, there is a greater disparity in taste interpretation amongst people.

Hate or love durians, onions and garlics? It’s in your DNA too

Besides coriander, other ‘more flavourful’ foods like onions, garlics and the all-time favourite (or hated) durians are also shown to exhibit the same phenomenon.

It is still unsure as to whether this distinct taste difference for coriander is more prevalent in certain cultures or regions as there has yet to be any research done on this area.