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article image'Miracle Fruit' Makes Sour Foods Taste Sweet

By William Suphan     Nov 16, 2007 in Food
A West African berry, known scientifically as Synsepalum dulcificum, makes sour foods taste sweet for about an hour after consuming them. Yet, the FDA will not approve it as a food additive.
Synsepalum dulcificum, or Miracle Fruit, has a very interesting, if not miraculous property. Eat one of these berries and for the next hour, everything you eat that tastes sour will taste sweet.
Jacob Grier had a party at which he gave everyone one of the berries and instructed them to eat it, telling them, "Make sure it coats your tongue."
Within minutes, guests were relishing lime wedges like they were candy. Lemon juice was drunk as if it were lemonade. One guest said that goat cheese tasted like it was "covered in powdered sugar." Another guest said a stout beer was "like a milkshake".
The culinary cognoscenti seek out this berry, which is about the size of a grape and contains a large pit, as a curiosity. The Japanese freeze-dry it and also sell tablets of it. Some growers are having a hard time keeping up with a new demand.
Apparently, the fruit works by binding to taste buds and altering sweet-receptors on the tongue so that they interpret sour as sweet. French explorer Chevalier des Marchais discovered it in West Africa in 1725 and noticed that the villagers would eat the berry before eating gruel and palm wine, and decided to give it a try.
The fruit is very delicate, so researchers have been trying to genetically engineer other organisms to produce the active ingredient which has been dubbed miraculin.
Success was gained last year in Japan, when scientist Hiroshi Ezura led a team at Tsukuba University. They managed to get it to work with lettuce. Two grams of this lettuce is said to have the same effect as one miracle fruit.
Ezura wants to create a food additive which will help out diabetics by using it as a sweetener to remove their need for sugar.
Growers in Florida claim that cancer patients are seeking out the fruit since it removes the metallic taste that chemotherapy leaves behind.
In the United States, growing and selling this fruit is perfectly legal, however, the Food and Drug Administration refuses to allow it to be used as a food additive. Apparently the sugar companies would suffer a huge loss of profit.
Kodzo Gbewonyo, a New Jersey biochemist who grew up in Ghana, has a patent for a method of purifying miraculin and is trying to get the FDA to approve it as a dietary supplement. He used to eat the berry as a child and now occasionally adds it to add "body and smoothness" to a glass of wine.
The aforementioned party by Mr. Grier had guests sampling from a table that included lemons, limes, grapefruits, pommelos, rhubarb, dill pickles, cheeses and sour candy.
One guest, Lalitha Chandrasekhar, said "Rhubarb is the big winner, it's like a sugar stick."
Paul Sherman tried strawberries after the miracle fruit and said they tasted "like strawberry-flavored candy ... almost too sweet." He further exclaimed that it was "the strangest gustatory experience I have ever had in my life."
One can only imagine the various uses of miraculin, such as getting children to eat that food they just don't like. Alternately, if you are a guest at someone's house or at a restaurant and there's something not to your liking, instead of enduring the awkwardness of trying to get around eating it, you just pop one of these berries and suddenly everything really is delicious!
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