Of all the foods on the planet, few are as divisive as cilantro; you either pile it on or you avoid it at all costs. In 2012, researchers published a paper explaining one reason for cilantro’s polarizing properties. “We think people who dislike it have receptors that make them unable to detect a good-smelling component of the herb, and certain inborn genotypes of the bitter taste receptor also partially determine how much people enjoy cilantro,” writes Danielle R. Reed, Ph.D., associate director of Monell Chemical Senses Center.
When you think about it, Campari elicits a similar behavior. Many of us have had the experience of downing Negroni after Negroni, while a friend can’t stand even a rinse of the bitter. So we asked the scientists at Monell what could be the cause of this taste divide. The short answer? Genetics.
“We have 25 different types of bitter receptors, and the sensitivity of many, if not all, of these receptors is tuned by variations in the underlying genes,” explains Leslie Stein, Ph.D., Monell’s director of science communications. One person will perceive a compound called PROP, which activates the bitter receptor called T2R38, as unbearably bitter, while to another person, PROP tastes like water, Stein explains.
This could explain the mysterious case of Campari, though it’s hard to know for sure because we don’t know what bitter chemicals it contains. And, as with cilantro, there could also be an odor component involved, Stein says.