COLUMN: April 5, 2018

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That’s right. Leave that coriander over there in the corner, well away from me

IMAGINE if there were an ingredient that roughly seven out of eight people really liked or, at worst, were not really bothered about, but made roughly one out of eight people retch.

And imagine if this reaction by a minority were not about fussiness or an understandable dislike of, say, melons (98% water, 1% cucumber, 1% air freshener) or yoghurt (condensed sour milk). Imagine if it were caused by a genetic intolerance which makes the ingredient taste like soap or rusty nails or that feeling you have when Nigel Farage is on Question Time.

If you were a chef or supermarket home economist, you would think: “Well, honestly, Trevor, I don’t think this is worth the risk. You and I might like it, but a significant minority of consumers are going to feel like licking the side of a matchbox to get rid of the taste. And I mean the rough side, not the side that says England’s Glory, in case you were wondering, you massive pedant.”

That is how things would work in a sensible world, but this is not a sensible world. This is a world in which there are 17 different types of vending machine and none of them work. This is a world in which I – a man who travels to work on a bus and put a bookcase together back to front at the weekend – would beat the President of the United States in a game of Scrabble or even I Spy.

And this is a world in which people put coriander (or cilantro, if you’re American and can’t be bothered doing the research) into things.

Now, if you are one of those people who think coriander is the best thing since sliced bread, and, actually, sliced bread could indeed benefit from the introduction of chopped coriander into the dough at proving stage, you will not understand what the fuss is about.

I can see you there now, chomping through mounds of coriander, happy as Larry (that’s Lawrence Berkowitz, four-time winner of the Man V Cilantro Challenge on the Cilantro Network). “What is wrong with lovely coriander?” you ask, mouth stuffed with the vile muck.

What is wrong with “lovely coriander” is that somewhere between 10% and 20% of the population have a genetic variation in our scent receptors that makes it taste like soap. Not my words, but the words of Science.

Sure, there are people out there who are fussy and don’t like coriander, like those people who don’t like garlic because it’s foreign. And they could train their palate to like coriander. And good luck to them.

But there is a significant minority of people, about one in eight of us, who will never be able to enjoy coriander because it tastes as if somebody has spread some Swarfega on our garlic naan.

That is a significant minority of people who can have their dinner completely ruined without notice. And it’s all very well saying that these poor, if incredibly attractive and witty, people can just avoid coriander, but it’s not as simple as that. Not everything is as blatantly labelled as carrot and coriander soup.

For coriander gets slipped into all sorts of stuff these days. It’s the Undercover Elephant of herbs. The coriander zealots think it improves everything, so they chuck it into soups, leaving you to assume it’s something safe like parsley until you slurp some, and salads, because the most diabolical place to hide some terrible leaves is among other harmless leaves.

This cannot be allowed to stand. We, the coriander intolerant, demand it. There needs to be clear labelling on packaging and menus, and not just in the list of ingredients. There needs to be a special sign. I recommend a logo featuring a big bar of soap, that should be plastered on the front of the packet.

This Soap Mark would be a warning to corianderphobes to stay away. And it would also be a signal to the sort of person who likes coriander. “Come in,” it would say. “You can’t move for herbs that taste like Fairy Liquid in here. Fill your boots.”

If anything, it would allow chefs and supermarket home economists to put even more coriander in things. Which is ideal, because there would be less lying around the place for the likes of me to worry about.

And if you say I’m overreacting, you are obviously not one of the chosen one-in-eight. And you should wash your mouth out with soap.

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