August 26, 2005
If you're reading this you are most likely allergic to cilantro...I know I am, and here is my story.
One day in my high school biology class in Salt Lake City, UT the instructor walked around and placed a small green sprig of a parsley-looking plant in front of each student. He gave the explicit instructions "Do NOT touch, eat or smell this plant until I tell you to do so. If you do I'll give you a zero for today's grade." Strong words
I thought "This is odd...when did we switch from genetics to botany?" We hadn't switched; I was about to painfully discover what would be my nastiest allergy.
"On the count of three" he continued, "place the sample in your mouth and observe what happens."
I'm intrigued, so I willingly submit myself to become an unhappy lab rat in this twisted experiment of his.
He counts slowly, enjoying the confused pubescent tension. On "three" I place the vile, green lace on my tongue and suck on it a little, the stem still poking between my pursed lips. Instantly my mouth fills with a vapor that tinges the back of my nostrils. It has a taste I can only describe as burning soap, and has the same effect on my tongue as a habanero pepper; it swells slightly and I can feel my blood pulse through the muscle.
I spit it out onto the table with the typical "Bleh" sound, silently cursing my favorite teacher of the semester. "What is he trying to do, poison us? What sick individual would make their students consume a foul weed in class?" I had thought, but only for a moment.
As I looked around the room I noticed I was in a small minority in my feelings. Nearly everyone else has turned to me upon hearing my reaction. Some of them are snickering, and someone I knew (but wish I hadn't) asked me "What's wrong? Don't like cilantro?"
A girl in the front corner was smacking her lips and running her tongue across the roof of her mouth, like a dog eating peanut butter. A third victim is at the sink in the back of the lab, trying to get water from her cupped hands without attracting attention. At the front sits the teacher, grinning.
"So what did we observe here?" he asked, coyly eying the room.
It turns out that roughly one in ten people have an allergic reaction to cilantro that ranges from a foul taste to more severe symptoms which escape me. My particular reaction results in an unhappy reaction, a nasty taste that lingers for up to 3 hours, swollen lips and tongue, runny nose and a burning sensation in my mouth and throat. Copious amounts will result in a mildly upset stomache.
I hadn't noticed this as the only common source of cilantro in suburban Salt Lake City at the time was the 'salsa fresca' served at the local "Mexican" restaurants (I now know what real Mexican food is, and it all contains cilantro!). I had always claimed that this fresh salsa was super hot yet my brothers and friends would eat by the spoonful without breaking a sweat. I gained a reputation for not being able to handle spicy foods (totally untrue) and for being a pansy in general (also not true).
To sum it up, cilantro ruined my childhood.
As I was forced to develop a tolerance (mental, not physical) for this demon-spawn of fresh herbs I can eat nearly any cuisine if I remove most of it from the dish. Alas I'll never know what it *really* tastes like, but after all I have had to endure I really don't care.