West African Miracle Berry: A Flavor Trip for the Taste Buds
The West African miracle berry has the ability to turn sour tastes into sweet ones. Learn more about this mystery fruit and its incredible flavor-tripping properties.
Amazing Taste Switch
Miracle berry, miracle fruit, flavor berry, magic berry, and sweet berry. These are just some of the common names for Synsepalum dulcificum, an evergreen shrub that is native to West Africa.
The plant's berry, which looks like a cranberry, is named for its "miracle" properties: the ability to change sour flavors into sweet ones.
This fascinating "taste switch" stems from a protein called miraculin, a natural chemical that affects your tongue's taste receptors. While this chemical is considered a natural sweetener, its taste is not sweet itself.
Miraculin binds to the sweet taste receptors on your tongue. When acidic or sour foods come into contact with the protein, it changes its shape and stimulates the sweet receptors. This creates an ultra-sweet taste sensation. Your tongue now perceives acidic and sour foods as sweet ones. The effect can last for up to an hour.
Are you intrigued? Keep reading to learn more about the West African miracle berry, from its 18th century discovery to its potential health benefits.
Miracle Berry Discovery
Chevalier des Marchais, a French navigator and cartographer, documented his discovery of Synsepalum dulcificum in the 18th century.
The European explorer discovered the plant during a West African expedition, when he observed the locals as they picked the berries and chewed on them before meals.
An attempt to commercialize the fruit for its natural sweetening abilities failed in the 1970s, when the United Stated Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classified miraculin as a food additive and not a sweetener.
For a short period of time, American dieters could purchase the substance in pill form. This sparked the initial idea for a "miraculin party."
The phenomenon has experienced a revival among modern food enthusiasts, with popular "flavor-tripping parties." Tasters consume a wide variety of sour foods -- lemons, limes, grapefruit, pickles, and beer -- to experience the incredible taste changes. Flavor trippers describe the miracle berry as a psychedelic for the taste buds.
Miracle Berry Benefits
Although people have recognized the mysterious properties of Synsepalum dulcificum for centuries, the miracle berry is somewhat of a novelty today. Researchers believe the real mystery is discovering the plant's health benefits.
Some research suggests that the miracle berry may help diabetics and dieters. Miraculin is a natural, low-calorie sweetener that could serve as a sugar substitute.
The fruit may also benefit cancer patients who are going through chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Scientists are investigating the effect of miraculin on the metallic taste, appetite loss, and malnutrition that are often associated with cancer treatment.
Dr. Mike Cusnir, a Florida oncologist, is currently researching the health benefits of Synsepalum dulcificum. He is waiting for FDA approval to test the berry's effects on patients.
Meanwhile, a world-renowned inventor, chef, and molecular gastronomer named Homaro Cantu is on a mission to end world hunger with the West African miracle berry.
Growing Miracle Berries
Are you ready to grow your own miracle berries? You can buy miracle fruit seeds and plants from many different online retailers.
The seeds are grown in containers of acidic soil. The shrub is grown outdoors in partial shade or indoors in bright light.
Fresh miracle berries have a shelf life of two or three days. You can also buy miracle berries as freeze dried pulp, or in granules or tablets.
- Blanchard, Kathleen. (2009, March 25). "Miracle Fruit May Help Cancer Patients Fight Nutrition." eMax Health. Retrieved November 12, 2011.
- Brown, Mark. (2011, September 27). "Miracle Berry's Sour-Sweet Mystery Cracked." Wired Science. Retrieved November 10, 2011.
- Marshall, Jessica. (2011, September 26). "Miracle Fruit's Trippy Effects Explained." Discovery News. Retrieved November 10, 2011.
- Park, Madison. (2009, March 25). "'Miracle Fruit' Turns Sour Things Sweet." CNN Health. Retrieved November 12, 2011.
- WebMD contributors. (2009) "Miracle Fruit." WebMD Medical Reference. Retrieved November 10, 2011.
- Wikipedia contributors. (2011, October 31). "Synsepalum Dulcificum." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved Novermber 11, 2011.
The information presented in this article is not intended as health or medical advice, nor is it a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment by a qualified medical professional.
© 2011 Annette R. Smith
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