To say people dislike coriander seems like one of those charming English understatements, because often the sentiment that arises is more like loathing.
"Has A Nation Taken Leaf of Its Senses?" screamed an over-the-top Washington Post article from 1994, in which author Elizabeth Kastor calls coriander "an affront" that "tastes like the grief you feel over the public humiliation of a favorite teacher who was found drinking in the language lab".
Often, however, people describe the taste of coriander as soapy. As Harold McGee explained in the New York Times some years back, that comparison makes sense given that coriander’s aroma shares some of its flavour substances with soap.
McVicar also mentions the scent "is said to resemble a crushed bedbug," which was a new one for me (shudder). Then again, McGee cites the Oxford Companion to Food when he explains that the word coriander "is said to derive from the Greek word for bedbug".
Anyway, whether that soapy/bug taste is the result of some kind of genetic factor or merely a result of your environment (coriander is a lot more integral to some cuisines than others) is almost beside the point when someone who can’t stand it is confronted by it.
"It’s one of those flavours you can distinctly pick out of any dish," says Bill Williamson, executive chef at Washington’s BLT Prime, who admits to being able to tolerate coriander only some of the time. Given his job, he’s used to working around people who claim a sensitivity or allergy to the herb.
Here’s some advice from him and others if you’re in the same boat.
Leave it off
Honestly, it’s sometimes as simple as that. If the recipe is merely using coriander as a garnish, you’re not going to make or break the dish by skipping it. Or set aside a separate bowl to let your guests add as much or as little of it as they want to.
Make a substitution
At the restaurant, Williamson says, the kitchen often swops in a mix of parsley, tarragon and dill for coriander. And because coriander lends a bright, citrusy pop of flavour, lime or lemon zest is another option. He also likes carrot tops.
"It’s kind of a warm, earthy, sweeter spicy flavour," he says of the greens, which can otherwise go to waste. Depending on the dish, you may also be able to get away with mint or basil.
Real Simple recommends Thai basil, which is a great idea I wish I had thought of, because it has a sharp pungency similar to coriander’s. Of course, any major herb substitution is going to change the flavour of the dish.
Try a different form
Coriander seeds are from the coriander plant, so Williamson says you can try them instead.
Some people might find them more palatable. McVicar says the seeds even "develop a delightful orange-like scent."
If you can get your hands on it, micro coriander is also worth a shot because it’s less potent than the full-size plant, Williamson says.
Get used to it!
If you’re interested in seeing whether you can get over your coriander aversion, it’s certainly possible.
Just ask the neuroscientist in McGee’s piece, who also happens to be an expert in smell. McGee notes that crushing coriander may help eliminate its more soapy aroma substances. He’s also a fan of coriander pesto, which he calls "lotion-free and surprisingly mild".
Similarly, I think a good Indian chutney is another great way to go. "If you can surround yourself with likable dishes," Williamson says, "maybe you can kind of change your attitude toward the actual herb itself."
The Washington Post