Y: On today's Moment of Science, we'll be sniffing our way through a controversial culinary conundrum: the great cilantro debate.
D: Cilantro, yech!
Y: Ah, I see that you're on the "hate it" side of the cilantro divide?
D: Obviously! Ugh!--it smells and tastes like soap.
Y: Oh, but it's so fresh and citrusy. Such an excellent addition to salsas, salads, guacamole...mmmm...
D: Yech--I must be missing something.
Y: As a matter of fact, you might be. According to scientists working at the Monell Chemical Senses Center, the smell of cilantro usually produces a "love it" or "hate it" response. Researchers used gas chromatography to isolate the different components of the cilantro smell. They learned that its distinct aroma comes primarily from a group of molecules called aldehydes.
D: Aha! That explains the soapiness. Aldehydes are one of the main by-products of soap-making. Now, I ask you: how can you like eating something that smells like soap?
Y: Well, there are a few different aldehydes in the cilantro-aroma "recipe." One emits the offensive soapy odor that makes you cringe. But, another produces the fresh, green, citrusy aroma that people like me find so appealing. Our ability to detect these different parts of the cilantro scent-spectrum varies widely, and is linked to our genetics. Some people can't smell the good part at all.
D: So, I might, literally, be missing it.
D: Or, maybe you can't detect the soapiness factor.
Y: True enough! We need more research to figure out the exact details, but the science of smells indicates that, when it comes to liking or hating cilantro, genetics matter. Thanks to our DNA, we pick up on the good and bad parts of the cilantro sensory experience in different ways.