Cilantro — a spice that genetically tastes like soap for some people — plagues many JMU dishes.

George Bernard Shaw once said, “There is no sincerer love than the love of food.” This couldn’t be more true. Food not only sustains the human body, but also nourishes the soul. It’s a means of cultural and culinary expression, and mealtimes are often times of togetherness and social interactions. Yet for some unlucky eaters, biting into a mouthwatering taco or a fresh salad can stimulate an unpleasant taste — the taste of soap.

Cilantro is the culprit to this unfortunate dining scenario. Scientifically, some people have a taste aversion to the herb. Although many people can’t stand cilantro, it still remains prevalent in the cuisine at JMU dining facilities. JMU Dining should offer more cilantro-free options for students.

The reason for the distaste of cilantro lies in genetics. The OR6A2 gene is an olfactory receptor. Individuals with a specific variation of this gene have a heightened perception of the aldehydes that give cilantro a soapy taste. The variation differs among cultural heritages. 21% of east Asians, 17% of people of European ancestry and 14% of people of African descent are affected. Only 3-7% of south Asians, Latin Americans and Middle Eastern people dislike cilantro, hence it being a staple in their traditional dishes. Studies also show that slow exposure to the herb over time can curb the aversion.

Still, these numbers are significant. According to these statistics, there are likely at least 2,500 undergraduate students who dislike cilantro.

Dan Fulk, JMU Dining executive chef, commented on the presence of cilantro in the dining halls: “All of the dishes that are on the menu and include cilantro are dishes that traditionally contain cilantro. For example, the Spice station does use recipes that contain cilantro because it is a spice commonly used in East Indian dishes. All of our ingredients and nutritional information is listed on our website: Our goal is to provide a variety of menu options that fit the flavor profile of almost 14,000 meal plan members.”

While it’s admirable of JMU Dining to stay true to the cultural influences of dishes, the presence of cilantro in the dining hall can be bothersome to those who have a distaste for the herb. This occurs most notably at the taco station in D-Hall. The bar of condiments features a cilantro-lime crema. While cilantro is traditionally part of the Latin American cuisine, there’s no regular sour cream option, and the cilantro-lime crema remains all semester long. Yet, the occasional nacho station at E-Hall provides traditional sour cream. If Aramark, JMU’s food supplier, provides a plain option, it should be offered among the rest of the toppings at D-Hall.

It also still remains unclear as to why certain dishes contain cilantro. The shrimp cocktail hors d’oeuvres featured cilantro, even though shrimp cocktail is a traditionally British dish and has origins in American culture. Versions of coleslaw in both dining halls also contained the herb, but coleslaw was brought to America by Dutch settlers.

The flecks of green can strike fear and disgust in the hearts of the cilantro intolerant. For these individuals, cilantro is truly the devil’s lettuce. JMU has the right to include a variety of herbs and spices to appeal to the entire student population, but the anti-cilantro community shouldn’t be neglected.

Diana Witt is a freshman theatre and media arts and design double major. Contact Diana at