The curious case of taste for cilantro

Coriandrum sativum - Köhler's Medizinal Pflanzen
Surfing through the Net for information on taste, it encountered many discussions over cilantro[1]. Apparently there is a very animated diatribe between cilantro haters vs. lovers, that has been exacerbated by the fashion of adding indiscriminately cilantro to dishes.

One of the ideas of my research -or a side effect of it, if you prefer- is to understand human taste for food. A piece of software is able to track patterns in user’s choices: when applied to food, this pattern is nothing more than the taste of a gourmet, a valuable information for any kind of food industry. This kind of information, even if tracked in a very different way, has commonly used, e.g. the cilantro fashion is justified by the fact that 81% of the world population is cilantro-lover.

What hides behind the love (or hate) for cilantro? Apparently the “haters” are unable to detect chemicals in the leaf that are pleasing to all those who like the herb. The chemicals that give the cilantro its typical fresh and spicy taste are found also in other fruits and herbs, like lemon grass and thyme, but there are also unsaturated aldahydes, found out George Preti, and this compound makes cilantro haters think of soap when they eat it.

To feel a flavour while ignoring others is what happens for cilantro haters because  “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”, suggests  Charles J. Wysocki of Monell Center for basic research on the senses of taste and smell. This lack of receptor can be genetic, as a study on 41 pairs of identical twins and 12 pairs of fraternal twins seems to point out.

The physical capacity of feeling odors and flavors is another central aspect of the whole experience of eating. Even if no a lot of publicity is given to these biological and genetic factors, I wonder how they bias the data about user’s taste, for example, and how these results have to be integrated in the training of an artificial intelligence.

 

Notes:

  1. Coriander (aka cilantro or Chinese parsely) is the common name of the plant Coriandrum sativum, a member of the carrot family Apiaceae or Umbelliferae. The young leaves are the herb called cilantro, while the older leaves and seeds are called coriander – although the herb is commonly referred to by both names.

 

 

About Alexandre Albore

Alexandre likes to cook and to eat. After obtaining his PhD in Artificial Intelligence on Automated Planning, he now works on aerospace applications of AI. Alexandre lives actually in Toulouse, France. Google+
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