Why Does Curry Taste Like Soap? Hint… It’s Coriander!

Have you spent your life asking why does curry taste like soap? It's not us. It' most definitely you! Want the good news? You may not have been getting the most out of your Indian food! By removing one simple ingredient, you will find the taste of your curry drastically improved. Today we're talking coriander, and what makes it taste so soapy, so you'll be able to enjoy a curry without the bad taste. Yep, you're welcome.

The 'soapy' taste in curry is actually caused by a herb called coriander. Genetics play a massive part in how your brain perceives the taste of coriander. For some, it tastes citrusy. For others, it tastes like soap! If you remove this ingredient, it will improve the taste of your curry!

Coriander features in many Indian dishes. Here's the science behind it and why you can still enjoy curry that doesn't taste like soap!

Why Does Curry Taste Like Soap?

Curry tastes like soap, or at least you may perceive it that way because most curries feature fresh coriander as a garnish. Around 20% of people register coriander as a 'soapy' taste. So, if you think curry tastes like soap, you fall into this category. This is primarily down to genetics.

If you've been served curry with a leafy garnish sprinkled on top, it is highly likely that this is coriander. Remove this element, and you'll notice that the soapy taste literally disappears!

According to a study by Biomed central, coriander is quite a controversial herb.

In fact, some people hate it.

Literally.

There are Facebook groups and marketing campaigns dedicated to it.

Why?

Well, it's loaded with things called aldehydes. These compounds are present in all foods and are responsible for how they taste. Coriander is unique in that the aldehydes present are perceived by people in different ways. And it all has to do with your ancestral background and how your brain processes flavours.

Coriander features massively in Asian cuisine. Can you imagine if 20% say the Indian or Thai population didn't like coriander? That's one-fifth of the country out of luck at dinner time!

Right?

But…

Studies have found that the aversion to coriander varies by ethnic group. Whereas an aversion to coriander occupied between 14% and 21% among Caucasian and African ethnicities, it was as low as  3 – 7% among people with backgrounds or from the Asian subcontinent.

Genetic analysis by Nicholas Eriksson provided in a study by Cornell University states: -

"There is a genetic component to cilantro taste perception and suggest that cilantro dislike may stem from genetic variants in olfactory receptors".

Here's a quick percentage table showing you how diverse people's taste in Cilantro really is, based on ethnicity from the results found on Biomed central: -

Ethnic Background

Like Coriander

Don’t mind Coriander

Hate Coriander

Caucasian

64%

18%

17%

East Asian

53%

26%

21%

South Asian

75%

17%

7%

Middle Eastern

69%

28%

3%

Hispanic

92%

4%

4%

African Descent

59%

27%

14%

Want the none scientific, plain English version?

The highest proportion of coriander haters were from Caucasian, East Asian and African backgrounds.

Some people think that coriander tastes fragrant, fresh and citrusy. Others literally taste nothing but soap.

Does Coriander Actually Taste Like Soap?

The real answer is it all depends on how your brain works.

Those who taste 'soap' when they eat coriander have a different genetic make-up from those who enjoy it.

There is an active gene, called OR6A2, that allow some people to detect aldehydes that others can't. Basically, if this gene isn't 'switched on' in your genetic make-up, you won't be able to pick up on the alkenes responsible for causing the soapy taste.

What is Coriander?

Coriander is a leafy green herb of the parsley family. You can eat the leaves, stalks and indeed the plant's seeds. All of which feature in Indian cooking. The Latin name for coriander is Coriandrum sativum. You'll also hear Americans refer to it as Cilantro.

coriander citrus

Here's how the different parts of the plant are used: -

  • Leaves – Often used in curries as both an ingredient and a garnish. The leaves are chopped finely and sprinkled over the top of curry, creating a nice contrasting colour and adding a hint of zesty freshness (if you don't think it tastes like soap).
  • Stems – The stems of the coriander plant tend not to be used as a garnish. Instead, you'll find that incorporated as a flavour element in many dishes. The stems are pretty soft and not woody, making them ideal for adding coriander's zesty (or soapy) flavour.
  • Seeds – Coriander seeds are a key part of Indian cooking. The seeds are normally toasted in a pan before being crushed into a fine powder. The seeds taste a little different to the coriander leaf and aren't normally associated with the soapy taste. Instead, they are a little bit citrusy with notes of lemon and a distinct 'nutty' taste. You'll tend to find coriander seeds feature in curry powders often.
  • Roots –  The roots taste very similar to the leaves of the coriander plant, with a more intense flavour. You definitely won't like the roots if you don't like coriander leaves. The good news is that coriander root is rarely used in Indian cooking.

If you want to see coriander seeds, check my full guide to Indian spices here.

How to Stop Curry Tasting Like Soap

Listen, guys, it's really simple. I guarantee that the soapy taste you are experiencing is coriander.

The answer?

Get rid of it.

If you are ordering curry, the simplest way is to ask them not to prepare or garnish it with coriander. If you are making curry at home, then it is even easier. Give the coriander a miss entirely!

But my curry powder has coriander in it?

Well, there's two pieces of good news here.

First, coriander seeds taste vastly different to the leaves.

Second, even if you can still detect a soapy taste, it's not a problem. If you've been using shop-bought curry powder, perhaps it is time to make a change and make your own? I've got a great guide here showing how to make several different types of homemade curry spice.

Why Does My Curry Taste Like Soap? The Bottom Line

There are two reasons why your curry tastes like soap. The first is the plates haven't been rinsed properly. This is unlikely, which leads us to the second reason. You likely have a genetic predisposition that makes coriander taste like soap.

Remove this from your dish, and chances are the soapy taste will disappear like magic. Want to make curry your way, soap-taste free? Check out some of my curry cooking guides, and you'll know exactly what is making its way into your dish. Enjoy!


Enjoy Making Curry Yourself?

Hey folks, thanks for reading this article. I hope you found it useful, and that you learned something new allowing you to make your curry extra special. Here are a few things that can really elevate your curry game to the next level. 

These are affiliate links, so if you use them I receive a small commission, but this won't cost you any extra. In all honesty, I use very similar items myself, and wouldn't hesitate to recommend them to my friends.

A Complete Curry Kit: - Literally, everything you'll need to make curry all in one place. Cookware, storage, utensils, even the spices! This is my dedicated guide to getting you up and running all for the price of few takeaways.

Curry pans: - You need one, and one only. A frying pan exactly like this is really easy to use, and is exactly the type that authentic Indian chefs use to make the type of curry that you'll have in your local takeaway. You can see my full reviews of several pans right here...

Spice Storage: - Being organised is half the battle in making great curry. Spices can be notoriously hard to keep tidy. That's why I tend to use a spice rack like this. You can arrange your spices by size, heat, or any way you choose. I've got a detailed review of several Indian spice racks in this guide.


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