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Bittersweet No More
August 20, 2014 10:04 AM   Subscribe

In the wake of the great miracle fruit craze of the late 00's, Francis Lam tested two more obscure taste distorters: adenosine 5′-monophosphate, which blocks the sensation of bitter flavors, and Gymnema sylvestre, a South Asian herb that does the same for sweetness.
posted by Iridic (32 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite

 
I suspect there's a big overlap in between the set of people who generally abhor the idea of adding pure MSG to foods to alter their flavour impression (often on the grounds of "neurotoxicity" or similar") -- and yet who often love a good parmesan cheese -- and the set of people who delight in adding to their food poorly characterised excitatory or inhibitory neuromodulators and novel, poorly purified glycosides of unknown mutagenicity and CYP interaction.
posted by meehawl at 10:16 AM on August 20 [4 favorites]


I tried gymnena fairly recently. Then tasted some maple syrup my dad had made. It was weird. No sweetness but still the same mouthfeel. And an odd bitter undertone - took me a minute to realize I could taste the smoke from the wood fire he had cooked it over.
posted by caution live frogs at 10:22 AM on August 20 [3 favorites]


I've done the Gymnema sylvestre (well, I did it to an undergrad neuroscience class I was TAing. Not as a powder though like the Salon guy did, the professor got a big bag of dried herbs and we made it into tea (and she made sure nobody saw her with this big bag of dried herbs...) It really made things taste nasty. M&Ms tasted like chalk. And the class was at 11am so we got reports back that lunch was, generally, a disaster.

Definitely not as a fun as the "let's make everything taste delicious!"ness of the miracle fruit, but an interesting experience.

I would love to try adenosine 5'-monophosphate... I hate bitterness, way more than is common, so I'd love to be able to understand a little like... what the "flavors" are in beer that people find enjoyable.
posted by brainmouse at 10:27 AM on August 20 [3 favorites]


I always liked the Hindi word for gymnema sylvestre: Gur-mar, aka "SUGAR DESTROYER!!"

(also, "that which makes a banana feel like a dead wet bolus of cardboard in your revolted mouth")
posted by Auden at 10:35 AM on August 20 [2 favorites]


Just ordered some Gymnema - looking forward to it. Don't have a sweet tooth at all, so it'll be interested to see what subtleties are in things I normally wouldn't much like.

What I'd really like, though, is something that blocks capsicum.
posted by Devonian at 10:37 AM on August 20 [3 favorites]


Anyone using these guys for weight loss? Take gymnena when you're not supposed to eat, take miracle fruit to make healthy food taste great?
posted by miyabo at 10:39 AM on August 20


miyabo... i actually sell gymnena as a weight loss supplement at my shop, ha! :) really interesting way to curb cravings. (and as mentioned upthread, it has been used in similar preparations as part of the Ayurvedic tradition for a really long time.)

maaan, it is crazy stuff.
posted by raihan_ at 10:43 AM on August 20


I lost my sense of smell once and for a week all I could taste was salty,sweet and texture. It was the grossest week of my life. I completely lost my appetite. It sounds like this stuff would do the same thing. I had no idea how rubbery eggs really are with all that flavor in the way.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:44 AM on August 20


adenosine 5'-monophosphate - I am curious to find out what coffee tastes like with it as I absolutely cannot stand coffee because of the bitterness (coffee ice cream - that's another story).
posted by plinth at 10:46 AM on August 20


Anyone using these guys for weight loss? Take gymnena when you're not supposed to eat, take miracle fruit to make healthy food taste great?

Back when I was in high school I ate some cinnamon altoids gum that completely destroyed my tastebuds. Like straight up burned them off so that I couldn't taste anything for a week. I didn't immediately connect the cinnamon gum to the symptoms, though, since my brother had eaten about 10x as much as I had, and I have a neurological thing that can, sometimes, have taste and smell-related issues as a symptom.

So here I was, 17 years old, not able to taste anything I was eating, thinking that maybe, just possibly, this could be the rest of my life. It was probably the single most depressing thing that has ever happened to me. I remember sitting and trying to eat brownies, unquestionably one of the greatest things in the entire world, and they were just a bland mush. Sweet things had absolutely no flavor whatsoever. I could sort of taste broccoli.

God it was so depressing. Probably a lot of fun for a short little experiment, but as for long-term use (like for weight loss or something), man, I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy.

On preview: St. Peepsburg, I feel you.
posted by phunniemee at 10:48 AM on August 20


Cats lack a taste receptor for sweetness. Take gymnema sylvestre and experience what it's like to be a cat! Maybe tuna and salmon and other foods cats like would taste extra good.
posted by painquale at 11:11 AM on August 20 [2 favorites]


I wonder if that compound is what's in the Chinese pine nuts that made everything taste bitter and metallic for days after you ate them.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 11:12 AM on August 20 [1 favorite]


I mentioned this recently in an AskMe thread, but not long ago I made a pot of lentils with (the recommended amount! and I am no delicate flower when it comes to heat!) some berere from Penzey's and, hurrying to eat it before the baby started wailing, I somehow managed to disable my bitter tastebuds. The IPA I had been drinking tasted like sweet tea. It was the strangest thing, and lasted a good quarter of an hour, at least.

I'd like to try to replicate it but I'm not sure my esophagus could tolerate it.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:12 AM on August 20 [1 favorite]


meehawl, that doesn't seem to be the case. From their blog:
By the way, glutamic acid + sodium = MSG. (You’ll get much more on MSG and umami in our upcoming post: Umami Nation: MSG the Superspice—the Headache is in Your Head.)
AMP, at least, is likely to be present in significant quantities in foods like Parmesan and nutritional yeast anyway since nucleotide monophosphates are a breakdown product of RNA and DNA. Indeed, GMP is supposed to be another contributor to umami flavor.
posted by en forme de poire at 11:37 AM on August 20


Mei's lost sandal: "I wonder if that compound is what's in the Chinese pine nuts that made everything taste bitter and metallic for days after you ate them"
Sweet’N Low: You know how there are people who can’t stand to be within five feet of artificial sweeteners because they think they’re so bitter? I’m not really one of those people, because I can suck down Diet Coke like it’s mother’s milk. But without its sweet mask, saccharine dissolves into a thick, metallic bitterness, one I’ve never really noticed before. Ick.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 11:49 AM on August 20


I am curious to find out what coffee tastes like with it as I absolutely cannot stand coffee because of the bitterness (coffee ice cream - that's another story).

You should try cold-brew coffee; it really tamps down the bitterness.
posted by leotrotsky at 11:59 AM on August 20


You should try cold-brew coffee
I have a standing challenge to people to provide me with potable coffee.
The only soft-of-winner was a barrista at Cafe Borrone in Menlo Park who piped an obscene amount of fresh-whipped cream into a disproportionally small amount of coffee. It was like drinking melted coffee ice cream. I could discount this as being "not coffee".
posted by plinth at 12:03 PM on August 20


On reflection, it occurs to me that, when someone says they don't like coffee, the immediate response is to say, "No, no, no! You just haven't had the right kind, you just haven't had the good stuff." Like your current preferences cannot possibly be correct; that you're simply confused and need to be shown the error of your ways.

It's disturbingly similar to how bigots used to tell lesbians that "You just haven't found the right man yet."

This troubles me.
posted by leotrotsky at 12:14 PM on August 20


Yeah, but cold brew really is like coffee's less-surly cousin from the hill country.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 12:19 PM on August 20


Marginally related, I developed pine mouth a few years ago and boy did it suck. More than a week of everything tasting bitter was really depressing. I'll never eat pine nuts again.
posted by latkes at 12:31 PM on August 20


I bought Miracle Berry tablets for someone for Christmas. Several of my family tried them that evening while drunk. It made everything taste horrible. Beer tasted sickly sweet. Mashed potatoes tasted unpleasantly sweet. Chocolate tasted like unalloyed sweetness. Milk tasted invasively sweet. Water tasted like sugar water. Tomatoes tasted like bizarre bursts of wyrd sweetness. Tea was a slight sweet nothing. No one liked it. D---- would not buy again.
posted by forgetful snow at 12:32 PM on August 20


Oops.
posted by latkes at 12:32 PM on August 20


I am trying to cut down on my carbs. I'm pretty much diabetic, or daaaaaaaaaamn close. I take Metformin, but not as consistently as I should. I just... I am trying. It's just. the sweetness it's sooooooooooo good. Chocolate, Mtn Dew, Little Debbie/Hostess, Carbs, Mac n Cheese. GIMMEEEEEEEEEEE.

I am really getting depressed at this. I really do wonder if Gymnemna or whatever it's called would help. Problem is I'd probably buy it, then use it once and be like hellz no and never use it again. Tried Miracle Berry tablets from think geeks around 2008, Vinegar was... interesting, wasn't too impressed with other stuff in terms of flavor alteration.
posted by symbioid at 12:42 PM on August 20


I tried the miracle berry tablets from ThinkGeek once. Neat experience.

I'll probably have to order some Gymnema. The thought of being able to push sweetness aside and taste all of the background flavors of a food is awesome.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 1:31 PM on August 20


Sorry, coffee and sexual orientation can't be analogized without completely jumping the shark. It's a drink. And yes, some people live their whole lives around abysmal coffee and have no idea what they're missing. Pointing out that cold press coffee is less bitter should not be unsettling. This is where "harden up" becomes an acceptable response.
posted by aydeejones at 2:41 PM on August 20 [4 favorites]


uncleozzy: […Eating spicy food…] I somehow managed to disable my bitter tastebuds. The IPA I had been drinking tasted like sweet tea.

I've done that too, munching on habaneros, then trying to cool my mouth with a nice IPA. So odd, having it strip out the bitter and leave something sweet and floral, almost like a mild barleywine. Of course, it was hard to appreciate the subtleties of the flavor, with my mouth on fire.

posted by JiBB at 3:44 PM on August 20


Is the pine nut thing universal? I've never had that experience.
posted by Ik ben afgesneden at 5:37 PM on August 20


Back when I was in high school I ate some cinnamon altoids gum that completely destroyed my tastebuds. Like straight up burned them off so that I couldn't taste anything for a week. I didn't immediately connect the cinnamon gum to the symptoms. ...

This is a recognized thing, though rare, and the most common cause does appear to be cinnamon gum.
posted by jamjam at 5:48 PM on August 20


Symbioid, have you tried using bulk xylitol as a sweetener? I also have a sweet tooth, and am doing an Atkins trial run at the moment, shifting away from carbs in general. Xylitol in tea, coffee, in various foods (yogurt, etc) gives me my sweet fix, plus it's very beneficial for your teeth, and bones (and perhaps skin, by reducing glycation of skin collagen proteins). There's lots of very interesting health research on it... Just take it easy at first until your body adapts over the first week or two. Your bowels will thank you.
posted by Auden at 9:15 PM on August 20 [1 favorite]


BTW, a pinch of salt decreases (perceived) bitterness in coffee.
posted by Auden at 10:20 PM on August 20 [1 favorite]


Is the pine nut thing universal? I've never had that experience.

No, and some were theorizing it only came from certain batches of pine nuts, possibly from China, and possibly from one particular variety of pine nut (apparently there are several varieties). And come to think of it, although I did meet someone else who got it at the time, I haven't heard anything about it in a few years, so I wonder if it was only this one supply?

I just found this, which is as much research about it as I've ever heard, but if you google you'll find a bunch of articles about it. I just read something convincing saying that in 2011, domestic pine nut harvests were low, hence more imports of this specific variety from China, hence more people experiencing "pine mouth".

Weird shit.
posted by latkes at 7:18 AM on August 21


The last time I ever bought pine nuts from Trader Joe's (2009- early 2010?) I got pine mouth. I happened to have some miracle fruit tablets handy and found that they cancelled one another out somewhat- enough to make dinner not taste horrible, anyway.
posted by pernoctalian at 6:05 PM on August 21


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