Sunday, April 26, 2009

Did you know about the "great cilantro divide"?

I didn't. I just knew that the day I discovered cilantro is one of the great days in my life.

But I am fascinated by people's different responses to taste and scent. Consider several of the facts raised on this posting and several that link to it. For instance: Using gas chromatography on cilantro shows that its identifying profile has a couple of distinct spikes. People who hate/loathe/detest cilantro do not perceive one specific spike. In other words, in the complex blend of taste and smell that identifies cilantro, its haters miss one that either a) masks what's bad or b) adds something pleasurable for the rest of us.

I followed this up because I have always been interested that in northern and western Europe, the coriander seed is traditionally used in cooking and baking, but cilantro -- the herb that grows from the coriander seed -- was not. And yet most Asian cultures use the herb a lot. Obviously the herb must be grown in order to get fresh seeds, so it's not that the herb was unknown in the north and west. Is this only a cultural difference or is there another reason? Clearly there could be a genetic link to not perceiving that one substance that creates the spike.

Well, how about the wide use of cilantro in Mexico?

I don't know. It may be that cilantro was introduced into Mexico in what's termed "the Columbian exchange" -- when, after the European invasion of the Americas, American organisms (the tomato and potato, for instance) traveled to Europe and European organisms (dandelions, smallpox) went to the Americas. If all these suppositions are true, then cilantro found in Mexico a population genetically disposed to like it.

1 comment:

Mira Costa said...

Along these same lines, there is supposed to be a plant that has an absolutely divine smell for those who perceive it, and no smell for the others. The incredible difference was dramatized for me many years ago when my son Michael came running to get me. "Mom. Come here! Smell this!" He was transported. I did. Nothing.
Anyone know, what is th name of that plant?