So fresh or so clean? A genetic variant near olfactory receptor genes associates with cilantro taste preference. S. Wu, J. Y. Tung, A. B. Chowdry, A. K. Kiefer, J. L. Mountain, N. Eriksson 23andMe, Inc., Mountain View, CA.
The leaves of the Coriandrum sativum plant, known as cilantro or coriander, are widely used in many cuisines around the world. However, far from being a benign culinary herb, cilantro can be highly polarizing -- many people love the taste while others claim that it tastes foul, like soap or dirt. Cilantro aroma is due largely to the presence of several aldehydes; similar aldehydes are found in soaps, lotions, and certain insects. Cilantro taste preference is suspected to have a genetic component, yet to date very little has been discovered about specific mechanisms.
Here we present the results of a genome-wide association study of cilantro preference using genotype and survey response data from customers of 23andMe, Inc., a personal genomics and genetic research company. Across this cohort, we find ethnic differences in cilantro taste preference. South Asians and Latinos were both significantly (p < 1x10-8) more likely to enjoy the taste of cilantro (OR=2.32 and 1.75 respectively, controlled for age and sex). Women are less likely to enjoy cilantro (OR=0.84, p=4x10-9). In addition, within a European subset, we find that the SNP rs4036310 is significantly associated with both disliking cilantro and detecting a soapy taste (p<5x10-8 for each, OR=1.14 and 1.25 respectively). This SNP lies within a cluster of olfactory receptor genes on chromosome 11, notably OR6A2 (also known as OR-I7), which has a high binding specificity for a number of aldehydes that provide the characteristic odor in cilantro, including E-2-dodecenal, E-2-Decenal, decanal, and dodecanal. We propose that OR6A2/OR-I7 contributes to the detection of a soapy taste from cilantro in a subset of people.
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