Witbier – Belgian or Belgian-style wheat beer – is a divisive brew. While some people adore these hazy, fruity wheat beers, others gag at the thought. Why is witbier so polarizing? The answer has to do with an equally love-it-or-hate-it herb: cilantro. We’ll back up and explain.
Some people adore the fragrant aroma and fruity taste of cilantro, but others think it tastes like soap. While some of why you dig or detest cilantro probably has to do with how and where you grew up – if your local cuisine was cilantro heavy and your mom pushed it on you, there’s a good chance you’ve grown accustomed to it – your opinion of cilantro may also have to do with your genetic makeup.
You may have heard the “cilantro gene” mentioned in casual conversation, but we’re here to say there are some actual legitimate studies to back up the claim that your opinion of cilantro is in your blood. According to a study of 76,000 people from 23andMe research, various genotypes have been found to correspond to your propensity toward appreciating or despising fresh cilantro. For instance, the study showed that if you have the genotype CC, you’re 1.1 times more likely to hate cilantro than people with the CT genotype. So, your genetic fabric already predisposes you toward an opinion of the herb.
So, okay, what does that have to do with witbier?
If you’ve ever spent a lot of time in Belgium or the Netherlands, you’ve probably found yourself thinking, “I really miss IPAs.” That’s because witbier typically swaps out hops for other herbs and plants. Starting way back in the thirteenth century, witbier used “gruit,” a mixture of herbs, to both flavor and preserve beer. One of these herbs is commonly coriander. And coriander is cilantro.
Well, kind of. Coriander and cilantro are the same plant. Coriander becomes cilantro after it’s flowered and produced seeds. Cilantro is to coriander as vine is to grape. Coriander and cilantro definitely taste pretty darn similar, which is why if you’re drinking a beer brewed with coriander (i.e. a witbier), there’s a chance you’ll pick up some cilantro taste characteristics. If your genotype skews on the side of cilantro fandom, chances are you’ll love yourself some witbier, and if your genotype makes you a cilantro hater, you’ll probably want to pass up on these Belgian brews.
Now, that’s not to say this applies to people on an individual level. You might hate cilantro but crave a Blue Moon after reading this article. That said, the presence of cilantro can account for why witbier draws such a visceral reaction from people.
If you’re curious about the other aromas and tastes that can be found in your beer, check out our beer visualizations. What’s in the glass is beyond amazing.
An original full-size, non-modified version of the header image is credited to Flickr / SAITOR