Sweets from the Sour: ‘Flavor-Tripping’ With Miracle Fruit
All photos by Katie Glick; (c) Katie Glick, published with permission by Osmosis Online
The latest in our “We Try It So You Don’t Have To” series, a strange substance that actually changes the way your tastebuds work for a limited time. Join us for a little “Flavor-tripping” via the miracle of, well, Miracle Fruit!
Valentine’s Day at my house is not about hearts and flowers and candies. Rather, it is about my husband and I taking some time out and just doing something a little bit fun and special together.
This year it was time to acknowledge that we are not getting any younger. We’re not in our twenties anymore and therefore it is time to find an age-appropriate mind-bending experience — one that can take place on the comfort of our couch and won’t make us feel like we were in a train wreck the next day. With that in mind, it seemed the appropriate substance to supply for our super-relaxed Valentine’s Day party were miracle fruit tablets.
What Are They?
Miracle fruits are small, smooth, and red berries that, when eaten, make things that are sour taste sweet.
The berry is native to West Africa, where the tribes that lived there would consume the fruit before meals, which led to its discovery by Chevalier des Marchais. The miracle fruit enjoyed a surge of popularity in the United States in the 1970s, when tasting parties were popular. Now it is back again and young food enthusiasts are once again discovering the fruit, holding what are called “flavor-tripping” parties, where they set out a selection of sour and bitter foods and beverages, hand out the miracle fruit (or tablets thereof) and then get to tasting.
How Do They Work?
Well, how they work is still something of a mystery. It is believed to have to do with the protein the berries contain, called miraculin, which bonds to the taste buds. What it does to the taste buds to alter their perception of taste is as yet unknown. One thing that is important to remember is that while the berries alter your perception of taste, they don’t actually do anything to change what you are eating. In other words, acidic fruits can still harm your mouth if you consume too much. Watch that you don’t come down from enjoying your lemons and limes with a mouth full of mincemeat. The effects last up to one hour after eating the fruit or tablets. For us, it didn’t last long at all, maybe 15-20 minutes, but that’s plenty long enough to sample several different items.
For our tasting, I purchased the miracle fruit in tablet form from Thinkgeek.com (about $15 each). This is basically just the fruit in powder form, bound together with cornstarch. Each set of pills comes in its own packet labeled “Mysterious Fruit Tab.” Intriguing!
To begin, you take your tablet and let it dissolve on your tongue, trying to get it to hit as many taste buds as you can. Once the tablet is dissolved, you can begin tasting items.
I went all out right away and decided to taste a piece of lemon first. The strangest feeling is right at the beginning when you are about to chomp down a piece of straight lemon. It’s a little bit scary, as it is hard to believe this is really going to work. But it did. The lemon tasted like a piece of candy, and even though I knew what to expect it was pretty shocking.
Here are the other things we tried and our impressions:
We drank some plain iced tea with lemon to test the sweetening power of the lemon juice. Adding lemon turned out to be like adding liquid sugar and we had ourselves some sweet tea.
Lime, like the lemon tasted like candy.
The grapefruit was hands down my favorite. While the grapefruit itself was sweeter than normal, grapefruits are not as tart as lemons or limes so it did not become as intensely sweet. The milder sweetness accenting the grapefruit flavor was much more enjoyable than the sugary sweetness of the more acidic fruits.
Salt & Vinegar Potato Chips:
This was kind of a test, as I read mixed results about tasting vinegar while under the effects of a miracle fruit. This was probably the strangest item. The vinegar was sweet tasting, rather than acidic, while the chips retained their saltiness. I can’t really say that I liked it better, since vinegar is a favorite flavor of mine, but the change was so dramatic and unusual that I kept on eating the chips to try to wrap my head around it.
The plain yogurt was very nice. It didn’t become sweet, really, but the tartness was blunted so that you could eat the yogurt without getting that face-pucker effect. Sprinkling lemon or lime juice on the yogurt made it sweeter.
I was hoping this would become more like cheesecake or something, but the goat cheese really didn’t change much at all in flavor. It may have mildly different, but only in a slightly disappointing way. I wouldn’t include this one again in future tastings.
Granny Smith Apple:
This was another one where the miracle fruit had a nice effect, and a good example of a fruit — like the grapefruit — that you can eat without worrying about it harming your mouth. Granny Smith apples are the tartest ones at our local store and normally I skip them in favor sweeter Gala or Pink Lady apples. On the miracle fruit, these apples became sweet and pleasant.
Bleeech. This was the absolute worst. We decided to see what effect the miracle berry would have on the bitterness of Fernet and it was absolutely gross. The bitterness was gone and what was left was mint and yuck, basically. Do not try this, I beg you.
Sour Circumstances, and a Plan for Next Time
Unfortunately, my poor husband was ill on Valentine’s Day, so we did not get to try the alcoholic beverages I had picked out for the occasion. I had chosen a Flemish sour beer; an IPA called “Hophenge;” (which sounded impressively hoppy and billed itself as “experimental” so it seemed the perfect thing for an experiment); a chocolaty porter, and a half-bottle of Hitching Post ‘Cork Dancer.’ I was curious to see what the fruit’s effect would be on wines, as well as beer — especially those of the more sour or bitter variety, but those will have to wait until next time.
RESULT: We tried it . . . so you don’t have to. But you should! And, if you’re so inclined, tell us about your experience, either in the comments below or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org