One Miracle Berry That Lives Up to Hype
I've just had the sweetest, most delightful afternoon snack.
First, I ate two slices of lemon. Then a spoonful of sour cream. And a drop of hot sauce, followed by a taste of unsweetened cocoa. Finally, the piece de resistance: a hunk of red bell pepper.
The lemon and pepper tasted like candy, but fresher. The sour cream was like pudding. The hot sauce retained some tang but was mostly mild, like ketchup. And that unsweetened cocoa? Sweet, like chocolate.
The culinary sleight-of-hand resulted from my having eaten a single frozen "miracle fruit" berry, which I popped into my mouth and swished around until it thawed and the skin and pulp separated from the hard seed within. Following the directions I'd received from the folks at the Miracle Fruits Exchange, Inc. (where a minimum order of 20 berries cost $60), I spit out the seed, swallowed the rest, and started sucking lemons.
In simplest terms, miracle fruit makes bitter things taste sweet; the effect lasts for up to 90 minutes after you put the berry in your mouth. According to Danielle Reed, a behavioral geneticist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, "It is not known exactly how miracle fruit works. But one possibility, drawing on what is known about other sweet-taste modifying molecules such as lactisole, is that a constituent of the berry acts as an allosteric modulator of the sweet receptor protein; in essence, tricking the sweet receptor into responding to the sour components of food as though they were sweet."
I know I'm late to the miracle fruit party; the Florida-grown berries have been known about for decades in America and for centuries in Africa. They've recently attracted lots of media attention, particularly for the tasting events known as "flavor tripping parties". One of my editors had repeatedly suggested I look into miracle fruit, but I didn't get around to it until I started looking at another "miracle" berry, the acai, which I've written about for today's "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column.
The miracle fruit conveys no proven health benefit, though there are anecdotal reports of cancer patients' using them to enhance taste capacity after chemotherapy has wreaked havoc with their taste buds. Diabetics are said to use the fruits to enjoy sweet flavors without adding sugar to their diet. But neither of those applications, or any other, for that matter, are approved by the FDA. The agency reports that there are no current petitions requesting that the fruit's active compound miraculin be granted the "generally regarded as safe" status that would allow for its widespread use as a food additive.
I've not seen any evidence that miracle fruit, the bright-red berry of the Synsepalum dulcificum plant, has harmed anyone. Still, I thought twice before putting one in my mouth: I'm not accustomed to eating things I know so little about. But I'm glad I did; it was fun, and it was nice to try something I'd acquired through the Internet that actually delivered on its promise.
Let me know if you've tried miracle fruit. How'd you like it? What bitter food tasted best?
Vote for the new MisFit! The Health section is looking for a new MisFit to take Howard Schneider's place in helping to write the weekly fitness column. Read the contenders' profiles, then vote for your favorite at www.washingtonpost.com/newmisfit. A lucky few will be back to write tryout columns.
Today's poll draws on yesterday's Checkup posting about fast-food nutrition labeling. As always, please vote here and elaborate in the comments section.
Results from last week's poll: Constipation's a big problem for 35 percent of the more than 800 readers who weighed in; that's the number that reported experiencing constipation "frequently." Many experience constipation only when traveling or otherwise getting off schedule (17 percent) or when they don't eat or exercise properly (18 percent). A lucky 28 percent said they hardly ever get constipated.
Jennifer LaRue Huget
March 31, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories: Alternative and Complementary Medicine , General Health , Nutrition and Fitness
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