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Magic Fruit Turns Sour to Sweet
May 29, 2008 2:25 PM   Subscribe

Would you ever mix lemon sorbet into a glass of Guinness? With the help of a small red berry called miracle fruit, that's just what one woman did at a rooftop party in Long Island City, Queens, last Friday night. The berry rewires the way the palate perceives sour flavors for an hour or so, rendering lemons as sweet as candy.

The miracle fruit, Synsepalum dulcificum, is native to West Africa and has been known to Westerners since the 18th century. The cause of the reaction is a protein called miraculin, which binds with the taste buds and acts as a sweetness inducer when it comes in contact with acids, according to a scientist who has studied the fruit, Linda Bartoshuk at the University of Florida’s Center for Smell and Taste. Dr. Bartoshuk said she did not know of any dangers associated with eating miracle fruit.

An extract from the fruit might also help people lose weight: it could be used to manufacture sweet-tasting foods without sugar or sweeteners. But one man's efforts to grow and market the berry were thwarted back in the 1970s. Did the sugar industry see the miracle berry as a threat?
posted by davinciuno (63 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
This was on metafilter about a year ago which led to (self links) this question about its legality and this experimentation.
posted by null terminated at 2:29 PM on May 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


I had one of these tasting parties once before. Several other Mefites were in attendance. The best by far was biting into lemon or grapefruit slices and having them taste like they were dipped in powdered sugar.
posted by piratebowling at 2:32 PM on May 29, 2008


Yeah, if you think grapefruit already tastes good, one of these berries will have you gobbling it like candy.

And the sour gummi worms were... less sour, like regular gummi worms!
posted by [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] at 2:36 PM on May 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


I would not mix lemon sorbet into a glass of Guinness.
posted by fixedgear at 2:38 PM on May 29, 2008


So how can I get some, preferably by this Saturday?
posted by Brainy at 2:43 PM on May 29, 2008


I would not mix anything into a glass of Guinness. Don't mess with perfection.
posted by mystyk at 2:44 PM on May 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


So how can I get some, preferably by this Saturday?

Well, you should have been in Long Island City, Queens, last Friday night, dahlink!

[NOT-NYCENTRIC-IST]
posted by anthill at 2:46 PM on May 29, 2008


Hmm. But does it have the side effect of making anything nice tasting taste like ass?
posted by Artw at 2:49 PM on May 29, 2008


So how can I get some, preferably by this Saturday?

The linked article lists locations and price.

The fruits are available by special order from specialty suppliers in New York, including Baldor Specialty Foods and S. Katzman Produce. Katzman sells the berries for about $2.50 a piece, and has been offering them to chefs.

Mr. Aliquo gets his miracle fruit from Curtis Mozie, 64, a Florida grower who sells thousands of the berries each year through his Web site, www.miraclefruitman.com. (A freezer pack of 30 berries costs about $90 with overnight shipping.)

posted by neustile at 2:50 PM on May 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


A colleague of mine brought some freeze-dried fruit back from Japan the other week. They're really neat! I have a few extra in case anyone in the area (Toronto) would like to try 'em.
posted by greatgefilte at 2:51 PM on May 29, 2008


Would you ever mix lemon sorbet into a glass of Guinness?

Sure, why the hell not? I don't need any magic fruits to make me try weird combinations of food.
posted by Faint of Butt at 2:58 PM on May 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


You know what goes real well with Guinness? Another one. Later, fighting.
posted by turgid dahlia at 2:59 PM on May 29, 2008 [39 favorites]


While this sound really cool, and I would love to try something like this, I'm fully expecting to find out that the Magic Fruit is something like a cross between ecstasy and a powerful hallucinogen, and if you were to watch a video of the people at the rooftop party, you would see them staggering around, giggling, and stuffing food in their faces proclaiming it's the sweetest thing they've ever eaten.

Which, were that true, actually would make me want to try it even more.
posted by quin at 3:00 PM on May 29, 2008


I have been trying to grow one of those stupid bushes since the original mefi post and it really is not going well. There is a reason those berries are so expensive. The bushes are finicky about humidity and they grow very slowly.
posted by caddis at 3:01 PM on May 29, 2008


A friend of mine is actually growing his own miracle fruit plant. He may have got the seeds from the above-mentioned Farmer Mozie. (I remember that they were shipped to him from the East Coast) The guy was really nice about sending him the seeds - since the fruit contains the seeds, he simply sent my friend a boxful of the fruits. So, instead of having to wait years for the plant to mature enough to bear fruits, my friend got to try it out right away. Now the plants have been germinated and they'll be going in the ground this summer.

I didn't get to try them myself, but I'm looking forward to the harvest of 2011.
posted by HE Amb. T. S. L. DuVal at 3:07 PM on May 29, 2008


But does it have the side effect of making anything nice tasting taste like ass?

I thought that was why they were adding sorbet to beer?
posted by dirtdirt at 3:09 PM on May 29, 2008 [1 favorite]



So how can I get some, preferably by this Saturday?

Well, you should have been in Long Island City, Queens, last Friday night, dahlink!

[NOT-NYCENTRIC-IST]


Sorry, I was only in Brooklyn. Way to invite me!
posted by Brainy at 3:14 PM on May 29, 2008


A little bit more about miraculin:

Miraculin is a glycoprotein with a molercular weight of 42,000, and similar to other protein sweeteners, miraculin is heat labile and inactivated at low pH values. The sweetness induced by 0.1 M citric acid after tasting 1 mM miraculin solution is equivalent to a 0.4 M sucrose solution; thus, the sweetness of a miraculin solution induced by a citric acid solution has been calculated to be 400,000 times that of a sucrose solution. The taste effects of miraculin persist for over 24 h after placing it in the mouth, and this limits its potential use.
posted by demon666 at 3:14 PM on May 29, 2008


i attended the party. it was fun and the fruit definitely works as advertised, though i thought it only worked really well for 20 or 30 minutes, not the 60-90 minutes i had heard. i brought a 6 pack of negro modelo, which tasted deliciously chocolatey, and a bag of sour patch kids, which tasted like gummy bears. biting into a lemon wedge tastes like sweet lemonade. i rather enjoyed eating the kumquats, too. he's going to throw another party in a month or so and if you are in the NY area, get on the email list here and he'll send you the invite.
posted by srkit at 3:17 PM on May 29, 2008


Ah, I see that the linked party was in Long Island City. Nevermind.
posted by Brainy at 3:18 PM on May 29, 2008


I totally just ordered a pack. I wonder what sushi will taste like....
posted by Helixxx at 3:21 PM on May 29, 2008


only $2.50?! I'm feeling kind of cheated for paying over $6 for one now. But it was well, well worth it.

(For others looking in Tokyo, you can get them at 3x the New York price at the Nissin international food store between Akabanebashi and Azabu-whichever-chome.)

Interestingly, the people where I lived in West Africa (Ghana) had no interest in the fruit, and were wondering why I would want to bother trying one. IIRC they come into season there around September.
posted by whatzit at 3:21 PM on May 29, 2008


This is the most over-exposed botanical since salvia.

The active chemical is miraculin. Now that Japanese food science researchers have produced high-yield transgenic miraculin crops, I expect that the additive producers will be soon able to replicate the success of that earlier flavour enhancer, MSG, and people will be able to order miraculin in bulk form to sprinkle over everything.
posted by meehawl at 3:25 PM on May 29, 2008


and if you were to watch a video of the people at the rooftop party, you would see them staggering around, giggling, and stuffing food in their faces ...

Oh?

From the article:

"the fruit, he said, “had people testifying like some baptismal thing.”"

"the guests became “literally like wild animals, tearing apart everything on the table.”

“It was like no holds barred in terms of what people would try to eat, so they opened my fridge and started downing Tabasco and maple syrup,” he said."

RTFA already. ;)
posted by artifarce at 3:26 PM on May 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Seriously, does the whole idea of mass consumption of lemons or other extremely sour or bitter things because they *taste* good worry anyone else a little? I'd be scared I'd eat something poisonous and not even recognize it for what it is. Or maybe ruin the enamel on my teeth a little.
posted by artifarce at 3:28 PM on May 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Hmm... I'm wondering what the effect would be of combining this with various psychoactive chemicals.
posted by empath at 3:38 PM on May 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


The easiest way to avoid that fate, artifarce, is to avoid eating things that are potentially poisonous and/or enamel-ruining after eating the miracle fruit.

I mean, I assume you already do this, but you never know.
posted by turaho at 3:38 PM on May 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


OK, I totally don't get this -- I mean, maybe as a party trick, but why would I want to ruin deliciously, wonderfully tart, sour things by making them sugary sweet? Yuck. I dunno, the US seems like the last place where we need more sweets or more encouragement of our already pathologically overdeveloped collective sweet tooth.

*throwing away peanut butter cup wrapper*
posted by FelliniBlank at 3:39 PM on May 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


TINY BERRIES WERE OFF THE HOOK, YO

Grapefruit really tasted quite amazing; the rest of the flavors were cool novelties and all, but grapefruit without bitterness was an entirely new and totally lovely sensation.
posted by Greg Nog at 3:40 PM on May 29, 2008


This could explain the pinky-taupe powder my mom would sprinkle on sour fruit when I was a kid -- it came from Chinatown in tiny dime-bag like pouches with an image of a berry of some sort on it. Before that, putting salt on sour fruit acheived a similar effect.
posted by Extopalopaketle at 3:47 PM on May 29, 2008


Lemons...parties...hmm. I'm reminded of something.
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:47 PM on May 29, 2008 [3 favorites]


You know what also goes real well with Guinness? Ice cream.

I think that's a friend of mine in the main pic on NYT. Does anyone else know Stellah? That's gotta be her.
posted by mrgrimm at 4:00 PM on May 29, 2008


This fruit is so new that I have some serious apprehensions about its safety. How do we know there's not some carcinogen in there? That's the only thing stopping me from ordering some.
posted by mr. creosote at 4:12 PM on May 29, 2008


If someone tries to make my guinness sweet, they're getting a smack.
posted by pompomtom at 4:12 PM on May 29, 2008


It seems like one would get terrible indigestion from swallowing lots of lemon, tabasco, sorbet and beer. Sure, it's sweet going down, but what about the next morning?
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 4:15 PM on May 29, 2008


Anyone know where to find these in Chicago?
posted by ztdavis at 4:24 PM on May 29, 2008


Miracle fruit, my ass. That name should be reserved for something that makes a rice cake taste like a rich seafood laksa.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:26 PM on May 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm definitely going to have to have a MF party here in Key West.
posted by humannaire at 4:29 PM on May 29, 2008


This Is Just To Say

I have eaten
the
lemons
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

posted by not_on_display at 4:30 PM on May 29, 2008 [5 favorites]


I think the most sophisticated use of this might be adding it in very small quantities to things which are already quite sweet; it would have the effect of making the acid produced by mouth bacteria metabolizing the sugar of sweet things taste even sweeter than the original sugar, and that would cause subsequent bites of sweet things taste even sweeter than the first bites instead of falling off in flavor as they now do. It might also serve to drastically reduce the sour aftertaste of sweet things.

Why did the bush bother to evolve miraculin? (Sorry, think of it as being like infinitesimals, but I do think it might pass a kind of Turing test.)

I'd guess it makes the bush a very formidable competitor with other plants. Plants protect themselves with very acid flavors (particularly in their unripe fruits) that deter herbivores. But if there happens to be one of these bushes nearby, that actually renders those well defended plants highly palatable, they are consumed, and the miracle berry bush takes over where they were growing.
posted by jamjam at 4:31 PM on May 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Miracle fruit, my ass.

Even then, Ubu, it still would not taste sweet.
posted by SPrintF at 4:34 PM on May 29, 2008


How do we know there's not some carcinogen in there?

How do you know there's not some carcinogen in any other fruit people have been eating?

It's interesting that it seems like you can't get a non-caloric sweetener FDA approved unless you can patent it.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 4:35 PM on May 29, 2008


Forget Guinness... someone make sure to try Chimay or Duvel and report back. I can imagine the heavens opening up and wond'rous light spilling forth.
posted by naju at 4:43 PM on May 29, 2008


neustile writes "A freezer pack of 30 berries costs about $90 with overnight shipping."

I'm clearly in the wrong business.
posted by krinklyfig at 4:46 PM on May 29, 2008


It's interesting that it seems like you can't get a non-caloric sweetener FDA approved unless you can patent it.

True; the animal studies and clinical trials are very expensive, and the FDA doesn't pay for them, it merely evaluates them. No business can justify doing them unless they can expect to come out with a patent.
posted by jamjam at 4:47 PM on May 29, 2008


it would have the effect of making the acid produced by mouth bacteria metabolizing the sugar of sweet things taste even sweeter than the original sugar, and that would cause subsequent bites of sweet things taste even sweeter than the first bites instead of falling off in flavor as they now do. It might also serve to drastically reduce the sour aftertaste of sweet things.

This is exactly what Splenda tastes like to me. I actually want the drop-off and the sour aftertaste that comes with real sugar. Splenda, though, just lingers on my taste buds and becomes awful and cloying. Does anyone else get this from sucralose, or is it just me? And would this prevent me from enjoying miracle fruit?
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:56 PM on May 29, 2008


Even then, Ubu, it still would not taste sweet.

I have very sweet buns, thank you very much.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:06 PM on May 29, 2008


If anybody finds this arround Montreal please post it here... I really want to try that now. (I'll do the same if I locate it)
posted by coust at 5:08 PM on May 29, 2008


Hmm, I wonder if this stuff is one of the secret ingredients of Coca Cola. Blind tastings always seem to show people rate Pepsi as sweeter, but if Coke has this stuff, it still might come out ahead because of a better finish.

As far as getting rid of it before 24 hours pass, if it's a glycoprotein, meaning a protein and sugar combined, and since it sits on sweet receptors, stimulating them when acid hits it, the sugar part of the molecule is probably down at the sweetness receptor with the protein part sticking out to be affected by the acid (like the denaturing of protein by stomach acid, but maybe reversible?). The protein changes conformation because of the acid, and that change mechanically pushes the sugar part into the receptor, activating it until the acid diminishes and the protein changes back, pulling the sugar back out, perhaps.

So you might be able to attack the protein part sticking up with a protease-- such as meat tenderizer, and such as the one in (fresh) pineapple juice.

I don't think it's a good idea to use this stuff often. It gives your system a signal that sugar is being consumed, which causes the pancreas to produce insulin in anticipation, but the sugar never arrives and the excess insulin causes your blood sugar to crash. Blood sugar crashes are bad things, and one way your body might respond if you make a habit of giving it false signals like that is by limiting the ability of the pancreas to produce insulin in the first place. Voila! type II diabetes. (The same scenario applies to more conventional artificial sweeteners, of course.)
posted by jamjam at 5:44 PM on May 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


That sounds neat.

When I read that it made sour things taste sweet, I was kinda hoping that it was something that would completely reverse the perceived flavors from things, or at least really fuck with the perception to maybe generate new flavor senses.

But I guess that would be a bit more fanciful than something that simply makes sour things sweet. oh well, still gonna have to try to find some sometime.
posted by agress at 6:29 PM on May 29, 2008


Now if we could only find a berry that induces synesthaesia, it would be possible to see the taste of sweet things that are normally sour.
posted by flotson at 7:21 PM on May 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Luckily, top researchers have done a lot of research in that area.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 7:25 PM on May 29, 2008


I'm clearly in the wrong business.

try growing these damn thing first. I think I would be willing to compost my bush and pay the $90.
posted by caddis at 8:39 PM on May 29, 2008


Well, goddamn. I always assumed these were urban legends, like the car that runs on water. The "miraculin" thing in particular seemed a bit over the top.
posted by middleclasstool at 8:58 PM on May 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


This fruit is so new that I have some serious apprehensions about its safety. How do we know there's not some carcinogen in there? That's the only thing stopping me from ordering some.
posted by mr. creosote at 6:12 PM on May 29


Are you serious? Or is this some sort of Grandmaster Irony that I can't detect?

Worrying about unknown carcinogens in berries is what keeps you up at night? Really?
posted by Ynoxas at 9:05 PM on May 29, 2008


I never knew "awesome" was cancer-causing too. But I guess it's no suprise, since it seems just about everything else is.
posted by turgid dahlia at 9:19 PM on May 29, 2008


Would you ever mix lemon sorbet into a glass of Guinness?
Nah. I prefer lemon sorbet & prosecco. No berries needed.
Though Guinness + berries I'd totally do if it let me enjoy a pint without feeling like I've eaten an entire crockpot of Irish Stew after.
posted by romakimmy at 3:24 AM on May 30, 2008


Blind tastings always seem to show people rate Pepsi as sweeter

And sweeter necessarily equals better? I also consider Pepsi sweeter, but I still prefer Coke.

Similarly I don't understand why anyone would go out of their way to buy something to make lemons sweeter... if you don't like sour fruit, well, er, don't eat lemons?! Eat strawberries!

Seriously, I don't get this, please explain.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 6:26 AM on May 30, 2008


Seriously, I don't get this, please explain.

Basically, most of the things tasted after miracle berries are entirely new sensations. A sweet lemon tastes nothing like a strawberry. (The Sour Gummi Worms were the clearest exception to that; as [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] pointed out, they just tasted like regular Gummi Worms.)

But everything else I tasted had flavors which were entirely new; for me, the real thrill wasn't avoiding sour stuff so much as getting entirely new taste experiences for each item. The flavor of grapefruit without bitterness or sourness was completely unlike anything I'd ever had before. It wasn't just that I was feenin' for something sweet (I like sour things just fine, and, in fact, often eschew sweet foods); it was that I was feenin' for novelty.
posted by Greg Nog at 6:58 AM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


And salt. Why would anyone go out of their way to make something more salty? If you don't like unsalted potato chips, don't eat them!
posted by Hubajube at 8:10 AM on May 30, 2008


Artichoke has a bit of this quality as well.
posted by bz at 10:15 AM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


I hear it makes lamb curry taste like Mango lassi.
posted by subaruwrx at 3:02 PM on May 30, 2008


Artichoke has a bit of this quality as well.

Yes it does, bz! And thistle honey is one of the very finest varieties, in my opinion, with a luminous aftertaste. I think that particular false sweetness serves to fool bees into doing more work pollinating them than the caloric richness of the offered nectar justifies. ('where the bee sucks, there suck I')
posted by jamjam at 4:01 PM on May 30, 2008


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