The miracle fruit plant (Synsepalum dulcificum) produces berries that, when eaten, cause sour foods (such as lemons and limes) consumed later to taste sweet. The berry, also known as miracle, magic, miraculous or flavor berry, was first documented by explorer Chevalier des Marchais who searched for many different fruits during a 1725 excursion to its native West Africa. Marchais noticed that local tribes picked the berry from shrubs and chewed it before meals. The plant grows in bushes up to 20 feet (6.1 m) high in its native habitat, but does not usually grow higher than ten feet in cultivation, and it produces two crops per year, after the end of the rainy season. It is an evergreen plant that produces small red berries, with flowers that are white and which are produced for many months of the year. The seeds are about the size of coffee beans.
The berry contains an active glycoprotein molecule, with some trailing carbohydrate chains, called miraculin. When the fleshy part of the fruit is eaten, this molecule binds to the tongue’s taste buds, causing sour foods to taste sweet. While the exact cause for this change is unknown, one hypothesis is that the effect may be caused if miraculin works by distorting the shape of sweetness receptors “so that they become responsive to acids, instead of sugar and other sweet things”. This effect lasts 15-30 minutes.
An attempt was made in the 1970s to commercialize the ability of the fruit to turn non-sweet foods into sweet foods without a caloric penalty, but ended in failure in controversial circumstances with accusations that the project was sabotaged and the research burgled by the sugar industry to prevent loss of business caused by a drop in the need for sugar. The FDA has always denied that pressure was put on it by the sugar industry, but refused to release any files on the subject. Similar arguments are noted for FDA’s regulation on stevia now labeled as a “dietary supplement” instead of a “sweetener”.
For a time in the 1970s, US dieters could purchase a pill form of miraculin. It was at this time that the idea of the “miraculin party” was conceived. Recently, this phenomenon has enjoyed some revival in food tasting events, referred to as “flavor tripping parties” by some. The tasters consume sour and bitter foods, such as lemons, radishes, pickles, hot sauce, and beer, to experience the taste changes that occur.
This sounds fun! Has anyone out there tried it? What was it like? The tablets are available on the net and samples are available for $13 to $20 – here or here or here – … less if you are not afraid to buy food products on ebay.
Do sweets still taste sweet after you eat this? As long as it is safe and works every time you use it, the miracle fruit could save many teeth by allowing people to cut out sugar yet still have sweet tasting meals. Strep mutans, the bacteria which causes cavities in your teeth, would not do any harm if you were eating something sour and tricking your taste buds into thinking you were eating something sweet.