I am by no means a picky eater. I have no known food allergies. I eat meat, fish, dairy, gluten and pretty much anything put in front of me. Even if I’m not particularly fond of a meal, I will typically clean my plate. There are starving children in Africa and, well, I like to eat. However, there is one little thing that I find absolutely repulsive and with even the slightest sprinkle it can ruin an entire meal. That, my friends, is cilantro.
For years I hid my cilantrophobia in fear of appearing picky or high maintenance. I never wanted to be someone who asks for lists of ingredients and spends forty minutes ordering a meal. Thus, I would just order blindly and hope for the best. If I couldn’t pick the cilantro out of a dish, I would try to eat around it. If that failed, I would chase it down with some soda to mask the soapy taste. I had heard mysterious tales of kids growing up hating tomatoes and then one day, all of a sudden, BAM – they love tomatoes. I waited patiently for that magical day when my taste buds would suddenly turn a 180. Yet my cilantro love never blossomed.
Recently at work, I overheard a coworker state that he too hated cilantro. At last I had found an ally. He introduced me to an entire community of cilantrophobes. There were “I Hate Cilantro” blogs, Facebook groups and numerous publications on the subject. To my surprise, even famous chefs like Julia Child, Ina Garten and Fabio Viviani are/were cilantrophobes! Julia Child once claimed in an interview with Larry King, “I would pick it out if I saw it and throw it on the floor.” Thank you, Julia! I would, too! For the first time in my life, I didn’t feel alone in this cold, cilantro-loving world.
Apparently, the issue is so widespread that scientific studies have been conducted to determine its roots. Various twin studies point to a genetic root in cilantrophobia. Scientists found that the issue lies in olfactory or smell deficiencies in those who dislike cilantro. Some of us may lack the ability to detect the “green” or “pleasing” aroma of the leaf. Instead, we only pick up on the leaf’s displeasing odor, causing it to smell and consequently taste soapy. So it’s not our fault! We’re not picky or high maintenance, we’re genetically and/or nasally impaired!
Although this distaste for cilantro is not a life-threatening allergy, I feel as if it could be taken a bit more seriously by the food industry. I’m looking at you, Chipotle! It is nearly impossible for me to eat at your restaurant. I’m not asking for a full cilantro-free menu, but maybe a cilantro-free rice option and one non-fire-breathing cilantro-less salsa? Furthermore, many restaurants currently have “Low Calorie” and “Gluten-Free” options flagged on their menus. Why can’t we do that with cilantro? Its symbol could be leafy bar of soap and it could clearly mark which items contain cilantro. I can’t even tell you the number of times I’ve ordered something seemingly safe like chicken noodle soup and ended up with a mouthful of death. We cilantrophobes are paying customers just like the gluten-free, dairy free and vegans and I dream of a world in which we too are represented on the menu.
Feature image via New York Times photographer Tony Cenicola