April 14, 2010

Cilantro-Haters, Bed Bugs, and Stink Bugs

Do some people dislike cilantro because it smells to them like bedbugs?  (Julia Child hated it too.) Not so, says an anthropologist who dismisses the bedbug connection as folk-etymology:

Helen Leach, an anthropologist at the University of Otago in New Zealand, has traced unflattering remarks about cilantro flavor and the bug etymology — not endorsed by modern dictionaries — back to English garden books and French farming books from around 1600, when medieval dishes had fallen out of fashion. She suggests that cilantro was disparaged as part of a general effort to define the new European table against the flavors of the old.

But there is a reason why some people say it smells like soap to them.

Soaps are made by fragmenting fat molecules with strongly alkaline lye or its equivalent, and aldehydes are a byproduct of this process, as they are when oxygen in the air attacks the fats and oils in cosmetics. And many bugs make strong-smelling, aldehyde-rich body fluids to attract or repel other creatures.

I like cilantro well enough, but to me stink bugs smell like over-ripe apples. In the early winter when there are fresh-picked apples in the house and stink bugs have infiltrated the walls as well, it can get confusing as to which is which.

Wikipedia explains stink-bug aldehydes.


Anonymous said...

I've never smelled bedbugs (at least, not that I know of). Stink bugs have a green, rather acrid odor. I don't mind it much unless there's a lot of them.

Cilantro smells exactly like a stale dirty dishrag. While I don't find the odor terribly offensive - it also doesn't strike me as the least bit appetative. I'll eat food with cilantro in it, but I don't enjoy it.

Anonymous said...

I've never smelled bed bugs (at least, not that I know of), but I think that stink bugs have a green, acrid odor. I don't find it pleasant but it's not terribly offensive either.

Cilantro smells exactly like a stale dirty dishrag. An odor I appreciate somewhat less than stink bug.

Unknown said...

Stinkbugs smell like cilantro with a hint of cucumber. I just picked up a glass in my home, and unwittingly squeezed a stinkbug. It took me a few minutes to discern the smell, but its definitely cilantro-like.