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Wash Your Mouth Out With Cilantro

To some, this is a squirt of hand lotion. Flickr: chrismar hide caption

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Flickr: chrismar

To some, this is a squirt of hand lotion.

Flickr: chrismar

I love cilantro. Let me just say that right now. I love its freshly (weirdly) green taste on a variety of foods. But it is a source of much controversy in our house. My husband thinks it tastes like dish soap, and I've been ordering his noodle soup "hold the cilantro" for the last two years.

The Gray Lady has taken on the cilantro debate, and found that it has a long — soapy — history.

Flavor chemists have found that cilantro aroma is created by a half-dozen or so substances, and most of these are modified fragments of fat molecules called aldehydes. The same or similar aldehydes are also found in soaps and lotions and the bug family of insects.

Soaps are made by fragmenting fat molecules with strongly alkaline lye or its equivalent, and aldehydes are a byproduct of this process, as they are when oxygen in the air attacks the fats and oils in cosmetics. And many bugs make strong-smelling, aldehyde-rich body fluids to attract or repel other creatures.

Also in the New York Times article: how your reaction to cilantro reflects the relationship of smell and taste to survival. Which explains how violently the hubby reacts to a wee bit of green in his teeth.