Did you know that there’s such a thing as a “miracle fruit” that can make just about everything taste a little bit sweeter? It’s one of nature’s oddities – a potentially life-saving food and a great all-around party trick – wrapped up in one.
We first came across the miracle fruit (Synsepalum dulcificum, if you’re feeling fancy) on a recent trip to Florida, where a friend hosted us and introduced us to the miracle fruit shrub in her yard. Then she led a group of us through a taste-test experiment: First we each tried a slice of lemon, to confirm that yes, lemons are extremely tart. Then we each popped a miracle fruit berry, eating the flesh of the fruit and allowing the seed to swirl around in our mouths. Then we each tried another slice of lemon and – holy cow! – the lemon tasted so sweet, it was like eating lemonade.
This phenomenon is thanks to a chemical in the fruit called miraculin. Miraculin itself is not sweet; however, when miraculin coats the taste buds and binds to sweet receptors on the tongue, acidic foods that are ordinarily sour (like lemons) taste sweet.
The miracle fruit is native to West Africa and was first written about in the 1700s, when a European explorer noted that the native West Africans would chew the berry before meals. It grows best in soil that has a low pH, where there is a humid climate and no frost (so in the U.S., Florida is perfect).
Now just think about all of the potential applications of having a fruit that makes all other foods taste sweeter: It’s used for dieters and diabetics (as a way to get a sweet food taste without eating sugar). It’s also used by cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy – who sometimes experience a metallic taste with their food – to make their food more palatable. Could it even be used by parents to help get kids to eat foods that are more sour?
If you want to get your hands on miracle fruit, and if you don’t happen to know someone who has a miracle fruit shrub, it’ll probably cost you. You can order them from various vendors online (and they’re not cheap), or you can order them in pill form, which people say kinda/sorta works as well as the actual fruit. (The L.A. Times did an interesting story about a miracle fruit taste test where they compared the fresh fruit and the pill form.)
And then depending on where you live, there may be an exotic fruit grower near you that sells them (we know of at least one in the greater Los Angeles area, Papaya Tree Nursery, that sells the berries for $2 apiece). In fact, in the L.A. area, the miracle fruit season (June through September) is just about to start. So if you’re planning a miracle fruit tasting party, now’s the time to get your orders in. If you are able to try one, let us know what you think!