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“Miracle berries” are fun adult food experiment.
I sat across from my dinner guests, hand outstretched and palm up, offering each of them a small red tablet. “Let it dissolve on your tongue before we begin,” I instructed. They each had a look of curious anticipation tinged with a hint of nervousness as they carefully rested the tablets on their tongues in one smooth, communion-like motion.
A few weeks ago, I gathered a small group of culinary adventurers together for a bizarre and mind-blowing experience called “flavor-tripping.” Rather than the ’60s-’70s-era parties that sought to alter your mind for entertainment or enlightenment, a flavor-tripping party is meant to briefly alter your palate with an extract of the Synsepalum dulcificum plant (otherwise known as “miracle berries”).
The surface of your tongue is covered with receptors that detect tastes from sweet to umami, from bitter to sour. The miracle berry has a glycoprotein that sounds like a bad sci-fi character: miraculin.
When the berry is consumed, miraculin latches onto your sour and bitter receptor, preventing you from tasting sour and bitter foods. So when you eat a lemon, for example, it tastes as sweet as lemonade. It may be a stretch to call that a miracle, but it is certainly has some interesting applications.
In the late ’70s, Donald Rumsfeld was the CEO of a company called GD Searle that was pushing aspartame through the FDA. At the same time, a company called Miralin was making a splash by using miracle berries as a way to eliminate sugar without nasty chemicals or potentially dangerous man-made substances.
Searle’s strong ties to the FDA allowed them to influence the appointment of an FDA commissioner that was sympathetic to their need to push aspartame through and get it approved. Just as Miralin was about to be launched (and “coincidentally” just as aspartame was being approved), Miralin’s miraculin-based product was denied approval and labeled a “food additive,” which meant years of testing that eventually led the company into bankruptcy.
The denial was not based on any scientific evidence of danger but rather on an odd concern that, after eating miraculin, children would begin to crave inorganic acids like battery acid.
It’s worth noting that Searle’s FDA commissioner buddy was around just long enough to label miracle berries as a food additive, push aspartame through regulation and get himself accused of taking corporate bribes…allegedly.
In the absence of any plausible commercial application due to that FDA ruling, miracle berries have since acquired a bit of a cult following and even spawned a trend with fine-dining restaurants in the early 2000s where diners would eat a berry and enjoy a “flavor-tripping” experience.
Now, the berries and tablets made from powdered berries can easily be found online for about $1.50 a tablet or $3 for a fresh berry, so experiencing the miracle of miraculin is as easy as ordering a banana slicer or Guy Fieri signature donkey sauce extractor.
As my dinner guests’ tablets dissolved, they began to try some of the foods I’d set out for this tasting experience. We found that miraculin’s effect is most noticeable with citrus and acidic foods. Lemons and grapefruit became sweet, intense and the rind tasted like candy.
My personal favorite was the salt-and-vinegar potato chips. With the effects of miraculin, the chips became sweet and vinegar-y, but without the typical vinegar tartness. The taste was closer to aged balsamic-flavored chips, which was fantastic!
The effects are minimal or nonexistent with foods such as bread, lunchmeat, tea, jelly, chili peppers, nuts and cheese. However, eating these foods while under the effects of a miracle berry exaggerated the food’s texture, for better or worse. A slice of beautiful mortadella, when stripped of its saltiness, became a gelatinous meat disc that quickly dissolved into flavorless goo in my mouth. I don’t recommend it. Some of the more notable pairings were:
Guinness Extra Stout: Chocolatey and sweet, like a dark chocolate milkshake
Vodka: Indistinguishable from rubbing alcohol. It’s disgusting. Don’t do it
Blue Cheese: Tasted like bland blue cheese. Not much difference
Tabasco Sauce: Tasted like spicy sweet roll glaze. This was one of the stranger flavors
Pickles: These became the best bread and butter pickles ever
Sour Patch Kids Candy: Cloyingly sweet with no sourness
Whether you want to lose weight, find a healthy sugar substitute or just want to season your culinary adventures with a dash of the bizarre, miracle berries are a fun alternative to sugar and an entertaining antidote to tired, boring dinner parties.
Pick the red tablet and jump headfirst down the culinary rabbit hole, but whatever you do don’t mix miraculin and vodka.
Trust me, it’s really disgusting.