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Temporarily Alter Your Taste Buds

Photo by flickr user, justgrimes

Photo by flickr user, justgrimes

I was in my kitchen finishing cutting a few pieces of fruit: lemons, grapefruit, kiwi, and lime.  On the table was a single packet.  It looked just like the packet in the picture to the left, but it said “Mysterious Fruit Tablets” instead.  Ominous, I know.  After having rolled around one pink tablet in my mouth until it dissolved, I  took a bite of a lemon, rind and all.  It tasted more like a sweet orange than anything else.  Next was a piece of grapefruit.  Same effect.  It was sweet all over.  The kiwi? No tartness.  Lime?  Extremely sweet.

You may ask if I dabble in the black arts.  I don’t.  Although, I did try my hand at alchemy for a summer.  Find out what I used to achieve this sour-t0-sweet effect, and where you can find some.

Miracle Fruit

Miracle fruit (Synsepalum dulcificum) is known by many different names: the miracle fruit, magic berry, miracle berry, flavor berry.  Perhaps one day, we’ll just refer to it as the super-wonderful, wacky, weird magic berry.  It is a cranberry-sized fruit native to West Africa.

You may have already heard about the miracle fruit.  There was a big feature in The New York Times.  It is a favorite feature on the evening news.  Journalist Adam Leith Gollner dedicated a chapter to the interesting story behind the miracle fruit in his book The Fruit Hunters: A Story of Nature, Adventure, Commerce, and Obsession. All the cool kids are eating it.  The miracle fruit was even used in a murder case on CSI: NY.

Miraculin: The Protein behind the Fruit

The taste-bud altering effect is due to a glycoprotein within miracle fruit named miraculin.  I know, not a very creative name, but in 1968, when scientists isolated the protein, they felt it had miraculous properties so they called it miraculin.

On the tongue there are bitter, sour, salty, sweet, and savory (umami) taste receptors.  Eating is pleasureable, isn’t it?  You lick a toad and it’s bitter.  You sink your teeth into some devilishly appealing chocolate cake, and your sweet receptors tingle.  You bite into a lemon or a lime, and your sour receptors signal your brain to pucker up and do your best pug impression.  When the miracle fruit is consumed, miraculin suppresses the sour receptors and allows the sweet receptors to start firing.  For a short time (15 minutes to 2 hours) your sweet receptors mistakenly identify acids (sour) as sugars (sweet).

The miracle fruit has been heralded as being beneficial to diabetics and chemo patients.  With diabetics, it can help control the diet.  It would allow certain foods to be sweetened artificially without adding sugar.  A downside to miraculin, however, is that it cannot be cooked in something.  The heat would ruin the activity of miraculin due to the fact that it is a protein.

One of the side-effects of chemo is a metallic taste that the patients get in their mouths.  Because most foods taste repulsive and bland to chemo patients, many have difficulty gaining their appetites.  In various studies, many patients have given good feedback, reporting that the miracle fruit did help them improve taste.

Why Isn’t this Huge?

In the late sixties and seventies, bussinessmen, Robert Harvey and Don Emery, raised money and formed the Miralin Company.  They wanted to create an all-natural alternative to sugar.  Much research went into the miracle fruit.  The company was able to synthesize miraculin and release it in tablet form.  Demand in the market was buzzing.  Diabetics were awaiting the release of this artificial sweetener.  Miracle fruit popsicles were beating sweetened popsicles in taste-tests. The miracle fruit was positioned to do very well upon its release.

Just as it was about to be launched, it was banned by the FDA. Well, not neccessarily banned, but the FDA indicated that the berry should be classified as a food additive.  A change like that would have required years of testing, which the company, Miralin, was not prepared to undergo.  Miracle fruit products were not allowed into the market in any form, and that was the end of Miralin.

No explanation was given. It is rumored that the Sugar Association put pressure on the FDA to keep the threat to their business, miraculin, out.  It all sounds like it was lifted out of a corporate-suspense story:  Robert Harvey’s office had been raided and he had some files stolen.  He had reported being followed, and was even involved in a high-speed car chase.

The berry itself is not banned. The miracle fruit can be legally grown and sold.  There are a few places in the nation that grow and sell miracle fruit.  The downside to miracle fruit is that it has a short shelf-life: around 2 days.  With overnight shipping, this isn’t much of a problem.

Recreational Uses

Flavor-tripping parties are all the rage.  Many clubs in bigger cities host them.  People get together, eat miracle fruit, then taste a variety of sour and bitter  foods: lemons, limes, radishes, cheeses, hot sauce, vinegar, wine, and beer.

This nytimes article really put the spotlight on flavor tripping parties.  People have reported apple-cider vinegar tasting like punch, goat cheese tasting like frosting, and guinness like a chocolate shake.  Everyone’s experience will be a little different.

Personally, I have enjoyed most of what I’ve tried with miracle fruit.  I’ve had lemons, grapefruit, kiwi, lime, shakes made from unsweetened cocoa, wine, beer, and vinegar.  The least fun for me was the beer, an ale.  It tasted sweetened and watered-down.  No fun.

I’m not sure if we’ll ever see these in America, but in Tokyo, there is a a miracle fruit cafe that sells desserts under 100 calories.  The catch?  They are extremely sour, and only edible after eating miracle fruit.  Read more here.

Where to Get Miracle Fruit

The actual berries you can get from MiracleFruitMan.com.  The seller is located in South Florida.  Currently, the minimum order is 20 berries at 3 dollars a berry.

I’ve done searches on ebay and seen a few deals on actual miracle fruit plants, berries, and tablets.

I’ve never tried the berry itself. When I tried miracle fruit, it was in the tablet form.  These have a much longer shelf-life.    For the tablets try thinkgeek.com for a packet of ten tablets at $14.99.  To stretch out the servings, you can break the tablets in half.  It won’t last as long, but hey, what’s miracle fruit if you can’t share with your buddies?

Have you tried the miracle fruit?  Do you have any sour recipes?  Let us know?

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4 Comments

  1. Cat Schwamm
    Posted Monday, April 6, 2009 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    I have wanted to try this for some time now. I like the concept of a “flavor tripping party.” Plus, it would hide the fact that i am a terrible cook.

    Bwahaha

  2. JamieThatcher
    Posted Tuesday, June 2, 2009 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    one of the most informatives blogs i have read on the miracle fruit you covered alot of things. This is also true about to Robert Harvey he was being harrassed for trying to bring miracle fruit to the forefront and into society for our benefit.

    I buy plants in different stages from http://www.MiracleFruitHut.com there best priced for Berries, Tablets and Plants, they are also experienced growers i recommend them for those looking to try out the miracle fruit in the most natural possible forms.

  3. JamieThatcher
    Posted Tuesday, June 2, 2009 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    one of the most informatives blogs i have read on the miracle fruit you covered alot of things. This is also true about to Robert Harvey he was being harrassed for trying to bring miracle fruit to the forefront and into society for our benefit.

    I buy plants in different stages from http://www.MiracleFruitHut.com there best priced for Berries, Tablets and Plants, they are also experienced growers i recommend them for those looking to try out the miracle fruit in the most natural possible forms.

  4. Posted Tuesday, October 26, 2010 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    That was a tremendous write-up. I don’t agree with every single thing that you said but still excellent nonetheless. On a side note, I am so ecstatic that the NFL is back. It seems like I been patiently waiting forever. This has to be my favorite time of the year. Sorry, I’m rambling. lol

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