Berry Tripping: when sour flavors become sweet

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Would you eat all the sweetness you could get your hands on if it meant you wouldn’t gain weight, your sugar levels would stay the same, and your sweet tooth wouldn’t decay?

You can by using a very special berry. It’s known as the “Miracle Berry”, but its real name is Synsepalum dulcificum. Originally from Africa, this berry has a peculiar effect that lasts approximately thirty minutes from the moment you put it in your mouth: sour flavors are transformed into sweet. If you were to close your eyes and have a lemon, Tabasco sauce, or a shot of tequila you would think that you were actually eating candy, honey, or a shot of maple syrup.

In cities like New York, one can find ‘flavor-tripping’ parties where for $15 dollars you get a berry and access to an all inclusive buffet that serves a variety of items, from strawberries and beer, to mustard and vinegar. The trip begins the moment you start chewing the berry. Its effect is almost immediate; you can pick any food of the table and enjoy its hidden sweetness. The berry trip speaks for itself: what looks like goat cheese tastes like cheesecake; an expensive bottle of red wine turns into grape juice, and lemons, well you would eat lemons as if they were hard candies.

The science behind this effect refers to a protein called ‘miraculin´. This molecule camouflages sour taste, making you think it’s a sweet flavor instead. The compound is actually a glycoprotein, meaning it has a sugar or carbohydrate attached to the protein body, which sticks to the tongue’s receptors and stays there, inactive, as if in sleep mode.

Once you introduce an acidic substance in your mouth, the protein wakes up and changes its physical structure, therefore activating your sweet receptors and giving that sour food a sweet taste. The effect lasts as long as the protein stays attached to the receptors, which can be anywhere between 15 to 60 minutes. The key is to eat only acidic ingredients that allow the transformation of the miraculin. So, as long as the food has a low pH, the berry will work.

The berry can be bought online from different companies. The most popular one is mberry, which distributes fresh berries, berry tablets, and even the plant to grow them your self. The actual market price is $2 dollars per berry.

It has also gained culinary attention, especially in molecular gastronomy restaurants. At the Moto restaurant in Chicago, chef Homaro Cantú offers sweet, sugarless desserts and even a published cookbook, The Miracle Berry Diet Cookbook, with home recipes using the miracle berries.

The berry also shows great potential within the medical community, specifically with diabetic and cancer patients

Its use as a sugar substitute has been recognized among diabetics due to its low glycemic index. Instead of adding sugar to their coffee, diabetics could add lemon juice, eat a miracle berry and enjoy a sweet cup of java.

As for cancer, a common side effect of chemotherapy that some patients experience is an alteration in taste which cause food to have a rubber or metallic taste. The University of Creighton is currently studying the use of miracle berries in hopes to increase patient appetite and reduce their common weight loss.

There is no doubt that the uses of this berry, although not well known, are many. The miracle berry holds great potential in the future of the food industry and food design community. Increasing gastronomical, scientific and medical investigation could lead to the discovery of many other uses and new products that could revolutionize our idea of sweetness.

What do you think will happen in the future with the miracle berry?

No more diets? Stomach ulcers? A substitute for Splenda?

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Monica Rubio

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