Miracle Fruit Makes Life Sweeter

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Imagine lemons that taste like lemon drops, radishes as sweet as strawberries, and Tabasco sauce more saccharine than syrup. It sounds like something out of Willy Wonka's R&D department, but it's possible after eating synsepalum dulcificum, also known as miracle fruit. This rare West African berry actually rewires your taste buds to translate sour or harsh flavors as sweet flavors in the brain. Just pop one small, red berry in your mouth and swish the pulp around; the sweetening effect will last as long as an hour.

Miracle fruit has been known to science since the 18th century, but kept a relatively low profile. The active substance, miraculin, binds to the taste buds and causes sweetness when it comes into contact with acids. The berry itself tastes like a weak, slightly bitter cranberry, and doesn't cause any known negative side effects. In the 70s, the FDA ruled that miraculin couldn't be used as a sugar substitute, and the fruit dropped off the face of the earth. Only recently has it cropped up in exclusive foodie circles as a sort of party trick at "flavor trip" get-togethers.

Miracle fruit could certainly come in handy on the trail, livening up bland trail food and providing campfire entertainment with the simple ingestion of a berry ("dude — taste these pine needles!"). But there are a few drawbacks to miracle fruit: They make already sugary foods overpoweringly sweet, and for what essentially amounts to a culinary practical joke, they don't come cheap. A single berry can cost as much as $2, with a pack of 30 running as much as $90. This delicate, strange berry may be a sweet miracle, but prices like that are bound to leave a bad taste in your mouth.

— Ted Alvarez

A Tiny Fruit That Tricks the Tongue (NY Times)