Researchers are at the beginning to identify genetic variants behind the mixed reception for the herb Coriandrum sativum, which North American cooks know as cilantro, and their British counterparts call coriander.
A genetic survey of nearly 30,000 people posted to the preprint server arXiv.org this week has identified two genetic variants linked to perception of coriander, the most common of which is in a gene involved in sensing smells. Two unpublished studies also link several other variants in genes involved in taste and smell to the preference.
Dislike of coriander has long been thought to be a partly inherited trait and not just an artefact of cultural practices and exposure to the herb. Charles Wysocki, a behavioural neuroscientist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, says that surveys of hundreds of twins he conducted beginning in the early 2000s at the annual Twins Days festival in Twinsburg, Ohio, suggests that coriander preference is influenced by genes. He found that about 80% of identical twins shared the same preference for the herb. But fraternal twins (who share about half their genome) agreed only about half the time. The strongest-linked variant lies within a cluster of olfactory-receptor genes, which influence sense of smell. One of those genes, OR6A2, encodes a receptor that is highly sensitive to aldehyde chemicals, which contribute to the flavour of coriander.
In 2011, Lilli Mauer, a nutrition scientist at the University of Toronto in Canada, identified variants in a different olfactory receptor gene and a bitter taste receptor gene linked to coriander preference among more than 500 people of European descent. Another research team found an association between coriander taste and several other genes, including a bitter-taste receptor.