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Cilantro


Sweet Willie
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Absolutely love it now, but there was a time when I didn't -- and yes, I thought it tasted like soap.

One day I decided that I was in the mood for it, and I've never looked back.

I believe that's a textbook example of an 'acquired taste'

As for its origin, I'll turn my radio down and wait for an answer from someone who knows.

=R=

"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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I never understood the "soap" remark.

Let me explain it to you.

Remember in Junior High School science class when everyone had to put a test strip on their tongue to determine PH levels and everyone had a slightly different color to their strips?

Well, it is those people (yep, I am one of them) who have the sort of PH balance to our bodies that predispose us towards soapy tasting cilantro.

Apparently it changes with age. I can remember when I loved it. Then, in my mid-twenties, my then-husband made homemade burritos with huge springs of cilantro. I accused him of not rinsing the plate.

Now, even the slightest amount of cilantro in a dish tastes as though it has been drenched with liquid soap. It can ruin an entire meal for me if used extensively. Imagine taking a bite of your favorite food and drizzling some dish-washing liquid on it before it enters your mouth. That is what cilantro is like for us with the genetic predisposition.

Don't hate us for it -- we don't want to be this way, but we are. And don't get mad at us because "we don't like cilantro." Would you like your taco with a bit of Palmolive?

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i wonder if cilantro tastes better to those who think it tastes like soap if it's mixed with something acidic, like lime juice. soap is generally basic, as opposed to acidic, so i'm thinking there might be a correlation btwn the amount of acidity on the tongue and the taste.

but then again, i'm dumb.

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i wonder if cilantro tastes better to those who think it tastes like soap if it's mixed with something acidic, like lime juice.  soap is generally basic, as opposed to acidic, so i'm thinking there might be a correlation btwn the amount of acidity on the tongue and the taste.

but then again, i'm dumb.

So far (for me, anyway), there isn't anything that cuts through it.

If the cilantro is there, it doesn't matter what other ingredients exist (spicy, acidic, sweet, etc). The pervading soap taste reigns.

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The "soap" thing... I don't think it CAN be explained if you don't perceive it that way. I've TRIED to taste "soap" in Cilantro and have never come even close. It just DOESN'T taste that way to my taste buds, and I've chewed on springs of it all by itself to experiment.

To the "soap" folks... do you also perceive soap taste when cilantro is cooked into something, or is it just the raw form? Does this soap thing carry over to Corriander seeds as well?

Jon Lurie, aka "jhlurie"

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from most of the "reports" i've heard, it's more than a perception thing, but rather a reaction thing. assuming that might be the case, i'd like to know what it is we're talking about here.

fwiw, i can understand the "soapy" flavor of it. however, it's not very strong to me. i suppose i'm a super-tasting-occasional-smoker.

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The "soap" thing... I don't think it CAN be explained if you don't perceive it that way.  I've TRIED to taste "soap" in Cilantro and have never come even close.  It just DOESN'T taste that way to my taste buds, and I've chewed on springs of it all by itself to experiment.

To the "soap" folks... do you also perceive soap taste when cilantro is cooked into something, or is it just the raw form?  Does this soap thing carry over to Corriander seeds as well?

I've not had the experience with Coriander seeds and cook with them all the time. I BELIEVE that the "soap" thing is more prevalent when raw, although still slightly exists when cooked. (I can choke down cooked Cilantro to be polite, but can't abide it in its raw form).

A caveat (for me, anyway), having done some professional cooking, I have had to prepare dishes with cilantro. I have learned to have others chop it for me as when it gets on my hands, it seems to permeate into other ingredients.

Perhaps I am WAY TOO sensitive...

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It is sad to say but the first time I ever had cilantro was my 21st birthday, my boyfriend and I were eating lunch at some restaurant in the Bahamas and it was in the salsa. It was so soapy tasting I couldn't even go back for a second bite. Now 12 years later (God, has it been that long? :blink: ) I love the stuff and use it where ever possible, can't remember exactly when my taste changed though........ :blink:

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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I'm not sure if my taste has changed or I've just grown accustomed to cilantro. There was a time when I found it soapy. But now, I find fresh and "green."

"Some people see a sheet of seaweed and want to be wrapped in it. I want to see it around a piece of fish."-- William Grimes

"People are bastard-coated bastards, with bastard filling." - Dr. Cox on Scrubs

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My guess is that if one doesn't experience it as soap, one won't understand it. I seem to recall thinking it was an alien taste and don't think I took to it right away, but now I'll happily munch on a spring or two and will generally reach for the spring that decorates or garnishes a dish in a Chinese restaurant. Of course my wife uses it a lot to cook Puerto Rican dishes and I've had a long time to develop a lining for the flavor. Even when it was an alien taste, I don't recall thinking it tasted like soap. Do all soaps taste alike? I don't eat much soap. I do have some memory of soap taste and I think it comes from bathwater as a young child.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Because I'm working on a book about the tastes and textures of food, I've been really interested in the cilantro/soap phenomenon, but I have not been able to find much information on the subject. I even emailed Robert Wolke and Cecil Adams (of Straight Dope fame) to no avail. Several cooking instructors I've worked with have said that the difference in perception is due to the lack of (or presence of) some enzyme in one's saliva. That's totally plausible, but I've never seen any studies or articles by scientists that put forth that theory. I've also heard people link the perception with the "supertaster" gene, but again, none of the articles on supertasters that I've seen (which is quite a few) have mentioned cilantro.

From anecdotal information, I'd guess that whatever accounts for the soapy taste is not absolute -- that is, some people seem to experience a slight soapy taste (one of my friends said "yes, it tastes like soap, but a good soap." I still have no idea what he meant.) and some, like Carolyn, perceive it as a big dose of Palmolive. Some people, as several people here have noted, seem to develop either a taste or a distaste over time. No one I've met has experienced the same thing with the seeds, only the leaves.

Strangely, the only article I've read recently that dealt directly with cilantro was in an early issue of Gastronomica, in which the author delved into historical reports of various European cooks thinking that (I'm not kidding) cilantro smells like bedbugs. I personally have no idea what a bedbug smells like (soap, maybe?), but it's not inconceivable that the two perceptions are related. Unfortunately, I lent that issue of Gastronomica to an acquaintance, who lost it, so I don't remember the details.

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What's interesting is that cilantro (and cilantro oil) is apparently effective in leeching mercury (and maybe other heavy metals) out of the bloodstream.

Maybe folks who have 'off' tastes of cilantro have some sort of heavy metal imbalance? Or there's some relation?

Love a good mystery.

Edited by mcdowell (log)
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1. Is cilantro native to a region of Mex cooking?

According to online sources, cilantro originated in the Mediterranean.

the herb originated in the southern reaches of the Mediterranean. Coriander has been found in Egyptian tombs dating back 3000 years. It is even mentioned in the Bible in Exodus 16:31, where manna is described as "small round and white like coriander seed." The ancient Hebrews originally used cilantro root as the bitter herb in the symbolic Passover meal.

Source:  more on history here and here.

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Mmm, I love cilantro! I never thought it tasted like soap, but I guess I can understand why someone would be put off by it's strong flavor.

You know what I think tastes like soap and can't stand? Cardamom. It's awful!

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  • 1 year later...

Does anyone know if Cilantro, which you see called Chinese Parsley in a lot of American grocery stores, is actually used in Chinese cooking at all?

I have hardly ever seen it called for in Chinese cookbooks, except for maybe one or two here and there.

I'm assuming it was called Chinese Parsley for the general american public just because anything "eastern" they would consider it Chinese.

I know it is used a lot in Indian, Thai and Vietnamese cooking.

Thanks,

-z

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It is used, but not as much as one would think. I love the stuff, but most would not. Where I see it most often is when it's used as a garnish, or something to add to a dish as a sprinkle. The stuff enjoys a wider appeal in northern and western Chinese cuisines., in my experience.

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Its used more frequently in Shanghainese and Sichuan cooking. As Ben says, its primarily a garnish in Cantonese. I particularly like it used in Fried Rice and sauteed noodles. I've seen cold Sichuan appetizers with hot chili oil frequently paired with fresh cilantro tossed up in it, and I have seen it used as part of dumpling filling in Shanghainese cuisine and in shrimp paste used for Dim Sum and shrimp toast.

Here are a number of photos from a Shanghai/Sichuanese restaurant in New Jersey, China 46, that feature cilantro:

lobster-shanghai.jpg

Lobster Shanghai Style

post-5-1055122298.jpg

Spicy Capsicum Cellophane Noodles with Shrimp

i2480.jpg

Crispy Flounder wrapped in Tofu Skin

post-5-1055122606.jpg

Fish Head Soup

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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As previous posts indicated, cilantro is used mainly for garnish. But, it does have a distinctive flavour to complement whatever dish it decorates. I love lots of it in soups such as tong yuen, congee, wontons. I love it so much that I often use it in place of lettuce in sandwiches! :wub:

The best part, however is the root. When I can get it, I will use the whole plant to make soup. This is supposed to be a remedy for high blood pressure.

I remember a treat from my youth in HK. These were 8-10" paper thin egg disks with pieces of cilantro baked into them. I think it's more for garnish than flavour. These disks were so delicate that once I was caught by a gust of wind and my disk fell apart and flew away! :sad:

Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

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I have a recipe for Jade Prawns that's cooked with cilantro; otherwise, as others have said, I've seen it mostly as a garnish.

IMO, and this is after reading through scores and scores (hundreds?) of Chinese cookbooks, herbs -- whether fresh or dried -- are not used all that much in Chinese cuisine; instead, they are used for medicinal benefits. Chinese cuisine is much more likely to use spices and "aromatics" such as garlic and ginger.

That being said, cilantro is my favorite herb and I use it as much as I can in anything!

SuzySushi

"She sells shiso by the seashore."

My eGullet Foodblog: A Tropical Christmas in the Suburbs

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