Boston University's Mind and Brain Society encouraged students to join a taste-testing experiment on Oct. 26 to see first-hand the effects of the notorious miracle berry. While lemons and shots of hot sauce might not be standard party-fare, the students tasted sour, spicy and salty foods after eating a miracle berry and found that the foods tasted quite different than they normally would.
The results of the experiment come as little surprise to those who know miracle berries well. The fruit has been eaten for centuries in West Africa and has recently gained a cult-like following in the United States.
The miracle berry or miracle fruit, scientifically known as richardella dulfica, is a small fruit grown in tropical regions of Africa that has the miraculous effect of changing bitter and sour foods sweet. Researchers in France and Japan have discovered that the fruit contains a protein known as miraculin, which attaches itself to the tongue's sweet taste-receptors temporarily affecting how an individual processes sour or bitter tastes. While the fruit doesn't have much flavor on its own, it can drastically change the way other foods taste if consumed after or alongside the berry. The effects can last anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours.
Earlier this year, IBTimes contacted Keiko Abe, a professor of applied biological chemistry at the University of Tokyo, to try to understand how the miracle berry functions and what practical uses it might have.
Scientifically, it is interesting to find out how miraculin blocks the action of sour-taste receptor, Keiko Abe wrote, in an email response to IBTimes, explaining that the fruit's effects are caused by minimizing the normal changes in pH levels that occur on the tongue when food is consumed. Instead, a tongue coated in the miracle berry juice will active the sweet sensors and inhibit the sour and bitter tastes.
Practically, it is important to use miraculin as a sourness modifier, which could improve the flavors of vinegars, citrus fruits and other sour functional foods, Abe continued. From an industrial point of view, we are interested in a large-scale production of miraculin because it has a good, sucrose-like taste and combines a non-caloric property. Developing a safe sweetener for anti-diabetes and anti-obesity uses is of pressing importance.
The fruit is used in many restaurants in Japan and some speculate that it could be sold as a natural flavor additive to encourage healthy eating practices with bitter or sour foods, many of which are high in nutrients. However, miraculin has never been approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration after problems occurred in 1974 that hindered the protein from being mass marketed as a food additive and sweetener.
Despite its failure to become a main stream additive, the practice of taste testing sour and bitter foods with miracle berries has gained a cult-like following. The New York Times reported on a number of flavor tripping parties where patrons are offered the miracle berry in exchange for an entrance fee. Party goers are then welcome to experiment and taste a range of bitter, sour and sweet foods from Brussels sprouts to tequila to see how the effects of miraculin affect their taste buds.
The miracle fruit can be purchased online for $2 or $3 a berry. Frozen, dried, seedlings, seeds, and tablet-versions of the berry can also be purchased online.