It sounds like something only Willy Wonka could dream up: a berry that makes everything sweeter. Well, it is real and it is magical. Or, I should say, it is miraculous. The miracle berry causes sour, tangy, or tart foods to taste as if they have been dipped in sugar.
It is called “flavor tripping,” and no, miracle berries are not a drug. This little red marvelous fruit originates in West Africa and its use was first documented in the 1700s. Local tribes used it before consuming sour cornbread, bland oatmeal gruel, and palm wine.
Miracle berries contain the chemical “miraculin,” which turns your tastebuds topsy turvy. Miraculin binds to your sweet taste receptors and sends them into overdrive if the pH of your mouth drops into the acidic range from something sour. In other words, it turns lemons into lemonade. The sweet effect lasts for 1-2 hours.
If you don’t have access to miracle berries you can buy them in pill form (the only ingredients are miracle fruit powder and corn starch).
You place a tablet on your tongue and let it dissolve. As Morpheus explained, “You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”
We tried an assortment of lemons, limes, blackberries, strawberries, kiwis, apples, grapes, prunes, cranberry juice, and balsamic vinegar. I reached for the lemon first. It tasted like it was covered in sugar and the normal tartness of the fruit was nowhere to be found. The same was true for the lime. It reminded me fruit slice candy. All of the fruit tasted sweeter than normal, but the strawberries tasted like they were sprinkled with fine powdered sugar. The most interesting flavor transition was that of the balsamic vinegar. The miracle berry transformed it into a sweet, thick, grape juice.
A few days after my first experiment, I did a second tasting of grapefruit, pomegranate, more lemons (yum), jalapeños, onion, pickles, and coffee. Once again, the fruit tasted extra sweet and the pickles did as well. The onion still tasted like an onion (yuk) but the jalapeño was rendered virtually tasteless, it lost all of its kick. The best part of experiment number two was the coffee. The straight black coffee became creamy and sweet.
If you want to try flavor tripping, just make your own tasting menu with a variety of foods to explore. The miracle berry can have some lingering effects so it is best to try it at the end of the evening when you are done eating for the day. In other words, don’t try to have a glass of wine post-tasting. It will not go over well.