My life would be so much easier if I liked cilantro. Living in California, where there is an abundance of Mexican food, I’m the annoying one at the restaurant, asking the waiter, “Does it have cilantro?” Then, disappointed, “Oh, it does? Can you put it on the side?"
Everyone at the table acts shocked. “What, are you kidding? You don’t like cilantro? How can you NOT love cilantro? I LOVE cilantro!” They stare at me, stunned, like I just renounced my religion or decided to relinquish my citizenship.
Never, it seems, has there been an herb that has created such a divide. It’s like the red and blue states. I don’t see people having this reaction to basil or thyme. But with cilantro, it’s either, you’re with us, or you’re against us.
So, I kept trying it. I wanted to like it. I was sure I would grow to love it. But, I didn’t. I tried it cooked, I tried it raw, I daringly added a dollop more of a little cilantro laden salsa on my chips, I took little baby bites, and still, I couldn’t wait to get that taste out of my mouth.
If you’re like me, I’m sure that you, too, wish you could love this little contentious herb, just so that people would stop questioning you about your choice, or so that you could stop making two versions of your favorite guacamole or salsa for friends and family. I figured there had to be some kind of middle ground, at least a Switzerland type of substitution that might work for the masses.
So I did a bit of research and found that some people recommended a few different substitutions; a bit of coriander seeds, a little parsley, some finely chopped poblano chili’s, or a little minced green onions with a squeeze of lime. But no matter what, the cilantro lovers will definitely notice the missing ingredient, and you, the cilantro hater, will wonder why you even bothered to add anything to what might have already been a perfect dish!
And then, just when I was feeling like there must be something wrong with me, I mean seriously, how could I hate this little green delight that everyone else was touting as tasting so fresh, clean, and bright, I learned that it wasn’t my fault! They now say that people who strongly dislike cilantro are born with some genetic variant. Apparently it lies deep inside a cluster of smell-influencing genes. There is a special protein that many of us are extremely sensitive to, and for those of us with this extra sensitivity, we dislike the smell and taste of cilantro. For those less sensitive, they will love it, like it, or possibly won’t taste it at all.
So, taking a deep breath, I think we can all relax now. Nobody is wrong or right in this battle of the herb. It looks like we need to just accept this and move on. And, like the saying, two heads are better than one, so it goes, that with cilantro, there is no debate, two recipes are better than one.