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January 25, 2011

Flavor Tripping with Miracle Berries

 I'd read about Miracle Berry parties a few years ago in the NYTimes and have wanted to try them out ever since. Since no one ever invited me to any tasting parties, I decided to throw one myself as part of our housewarming party this past Saturday.

Miracle berries (Synsepalum dulci cum) originate from West Africa, where they've been eaten for centuries to make traditionally sour foods, like porridge and soups, taste better. The berry itself has a low sugar content and contains a 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 the change is unknown, one theory is that miraculin works by distorting the shape of sweetness receptors so that they become responsive to acids, instead of sugar and other sweet things. The effect lasts for 15–60 minutes.

You can buy the real berries from a few places online (like miraclefruitman.com), but I went with tablets made from dehydrated berries (available on ThinkGeek) because they were faster to get, cheaper, last longer, and promised to be just as effective. We made a spread of citrus fruits, goat cheese, vinegars, mustards, coffee, green tea, and Guinness and then gave everyone a pill when they arrived to kick off the flavor tripping. The pill itself tasted like a Flinstone vitamin: chalky and slightly tangy and sweet. I was optimistic about the experience because of all the positive testimonials I read online, but I was still surprised at the exciting effects. Lemons tasted like lemonade, limes tasted like limeade, and spicy dijon mustard tasted like spicy... sweet mustard. Guinness tasted like soft chocolate malt, green tea tasted like it was sweetened with a spoonful of honey, and goat cheese on a cracker tasted like bites of cheese cake. Happy and Chris brought some lemons from their fruit tree and those tasted even better than the ones I'd picked up from the store - like a tart ripe orange. I avoided the coffee (Detox 2011 continues), but others said it tasted sweetened, and I never got around to tasting the vinegars, so can't comment on those.



The effects of the pill wore off, as promised, after an hour, but my mouth was still puckered from all the lemon and lime slices. And I suppose that's where the danger of the pill comes in; a meal of citric acid, mustard, coffee, vinegar, and beer does not a healthy man make, but in moderation, it seems like a pretty good cheat to sugar. I highly recommend buying the berries or pills yourself and throwing a tasting party with adventurous friends (or friendly strangers). If you want to know what I did to throw a party, or print out instructions/info I framed in the picture above, check here.
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