"The world is so full of a number of things, I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings." --Robert Louis Stevenson.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
Cilantro: Some people just don't get it
The New York Times is just now addressing the serious issue of cilantro revulsion. Even so, they just don't get it. In a Food section story today, which seems confused as to whether cilantro disgust is genetic or acquired, Darwinian or cultural, those of us who can't bear the weed, uh, herb, are condescendingly dismissed.
Admittedly, the story by Harold McGee does report Julia Child's hatred for cilantro, and her determination to "pick it out if I saw it and throw it on the floor." But the writer claims the froufy leaf's "soapy" taste has over the years grown on him.
I say: Better on the floor.
I am one of those who cannot bear even to be within nose-shot of it. When helpful friends assure me that the green bits in the guacamole are only parsley, I catch them in their deception, since the putrid stench wafts from the dip long before its hideous flavor taints my tongue. I blanch at chopping cilantro, even as a favor to my beloved daughter who savors it, as gagging while holding a knife can be trecherous. My other daughter inherited the cilantro-despising gene from me; we both recoil from the wretched taste today's article blames on the leaf's aldehyde fat molecules. Scientists explain that such particles combine with air to produce a distinctinctive "bug-infested bedclothes" odor. Mmm-MMMH!
I detailed my disgust with cilantro in a previous post; I am convinced that such loathing is entirely inbred. I cannot imagine ever imbibing something so repulsive with nonchalance.
(Here's a left-field comparison: this is the same kind of statement I've heard from gay people who say they can't imagine attraction to one of the opposite sex.)
I suspect that even characteristics that are physiologically based, like the foods we find absolutely abhorrent (as opposed to those we merely dislike, which of course can change over time and throughout life) may have a cultural component. Perhaps if I'd been exposed to hot chili peppers regularly as a child, I could tolerate pungently heated dishes today. As it is, spicy foods cause my palate pain. (The same daughter who reviles cilantro, by the way, loves firey food; my other daughter, the one who craves cilantro, shares my discomfort with spiciness.) We don't understand how these peculiarities are set, though I suspect researchers will soon discover the marker that confirms a biological basis.
So I strongly disagree with the Darwinian hypothesis by neuroscientist Jay Gottfried of Northwestern University that unusual tastes get classified by the brain as safety threats; once they're rationally identified as friendly food, they can be re-sorted into the palatable pile. He suggests readers re-orient their instinct by... making cilantro pesto.
Well, maybe wearing a face mask I could try...but then it would take a lot of time to pick out the little green flecks and throw them on the floor.