Sour Patch Kids tasted just like gummy bears. I popped one into my mouth. A Swedish Fish even, but by no means the tres tart Sour Patch Kid. Not even the slightest reflexive mouth pucker thanks to the miracle berry I swallowed moments before. Miracle berry, you ask? Didn't you read The New York Times piece May 28th about the West African miracle fruit? Also known as synsepalum dulcifucum, a single berry rewires how your tongue tastes sour foods for roughly an hour. The Times touted the berry as a fruit that triggers tongue trips, and talked of a burgeoning trend in tantalizing tastings. Besides sucking down Sweet Patch Kids, my palate instantly turned lemons into perfectly sweetened lemonade, limes into a summery limeade and grapefruit into a fruit that the pickiest sour-opposing toddler would devour without any resistance.
With a smorgasbord of well thought-out sour tasting edibles, I dabbled a tad more sophisticated than just the vending machine variety. Along with 24 other miracle berry virgins we put together our very first miracle berry tasting party courtesy of two chef friends and a roomy suburban pad in Jersey City on the 4th of July. We were eager to discover what foods and liquids our taste buds would transform sours into sweets.
The buzz around that one article already doubled the $3 price of the little bean-sized red berry. Everyone paid $6 a pop following a very uncertain week of wondering if we'd even score the berries. Apparently the minimum purchase is 20 berries and the distributors are now overwhelmed with orders. Our source at the Four Seasons ultimately won his bid for 25 berries from his berry dealer.
So luckily, in the wake of foodies and hipsters trying to get their berry fix, I got mine. Before tasting any berries, I researched what food bloggers and seasoned berry tasters recommended. Eat Foo and Russ & Daughters owner Joshua Russ Tupper guided my eclectic schmear of plausible treats. I brought: fancy goat cheese, exotic dried gooseberries, organic grapefruit and Guinness. Joshua suggested sardines. For a first tongue trip, I politely passed.
"What if the berry forever changes my taste buds?" asked Katie. "I don't want steak to taste like cake for the rest of my life." Chef Lisa echoed the concern, "I rely on my tongue for my job, I can't be tasting sweet as sour forever!" The thought of a permanent sweet tongue hadn't crossed my mind. I'd only read that the berry lasts a few hours. The only warning was no mixing the berry with wine. Since the berries play with pH levels, adding wine to sugar coated taste buds no matter the wine quality would simply equal a Manischevitz tasting. Icky. So we barbecued first, miracle berried second. No one -- taste bud paranoid or not -- was willing to risk not enjoying juicy ribs, burgers, grilled corn and potato salad on a $6 berry.
But indeed berry tasting time brought on mayhem. There were dozens of dishes and bowls to taste from. To the outsider, this was a room full of drug feigns or wolves attacking their last supper. We were rabid. We were urgent, desperate as we hovered over the table: licking, dribbling, swigging, sucking, squeezing and stuffing tastes of anything and everything into our mouths. There was no order to our sampling. We tasted with the one-hourish time in mind. We had to taste everything before our tongue trip ended.
Here's what we found:
The miracle berries we ate lasted about an hour. They can last longer. They can last shorter. They can also not work at all. (One girl ate one during the BBQ part and said hamburgers tasted like hamburgers and mashed potatoes tasted like mashed potatoes!)
We just chewed them and they worked immediately. I don't think anyone swirled, scraped or held the chewed up berry in their cheeks for a minute as the Times article suggested.
We started with the citrus fruits. Lemons and limes were amazing. They sweetened best. Imagine two-dozen berry tasters compulsively sucking lemon wedges exclaiming: "Like sweetened lemonade!" We sucked away again, without a pucker. Balsamic vinegar? Delectable! "Like a caramel apple syrup," someone suggested. Regular vinegar? "Like warm apple juice."
Tomatoes tasted like they were dipped gently in sugar. The dried gooseberries were a bust. (Dried fruits don't seem to work.) They tasted just a tad sweeter, if that. "Kind of like a Craisin?" Shari offered. Those Sour Patch Kids truly were remarkable, and I must say while seemingly obvious, they were quite a clever addition to our more refined buffet.
Wasabi peas tasted like wasabi peas. But wait! "They do have a slight sweet aftertaste!" said Amy. "The goat cheese tastes like cream cheese; the cream cheese tastes like cheesecake," summarized Opher. Sauerkraut tasted the same. So did the specially prepared pickled ramps. Apparently pickled things trump the berry. Yet, dill had panache. "Dill pickles taste like bread and butter pickles!" triumphed Lisa.
Cherries were utterly lovely. The miracle berry took away the cherry berry's acidity. Apple Juice tasted diluted. Coca Cola, Diet Coke and Coke Zero were all equally weird and flat. Steak tasted like steak. (Not like cake!) Already sweet things tasted diluted and were rejected by our sophisticated palates. "Add a miracle berry to coffee and you'll never need to add sugar," suggested an inventive berry taster.
The Guinness, wow, didn't taste like beer! Hoppy tastes disappear. The stout really was like some kind of chocolaty syrup or ice cream. Per food blogger Eat Foo's recommendation, Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout was a smooth, decadent dessert.
Chocolate ice cream tasting like beer left us feeling daring and bold. We swigged gin, vodka and tequila, and what do you know? They tasted like swigs of gin, vodka and tequila. (Post-gags we chased them with our candied lemon wedges.)
A regret: that we hadn't tasted everything before taking the berry to really discern the taste differences. Shari also made the keen observation that perhaps had we unknowingly been slipped a miracle berry, then we probably wouldn't have thought twice about say, a lemon tasting sweeter.
Another regret? Eating too much and not thinking about any order or long term combined affects of what we stuffed into our mouths. At the end of our food orgy many of us felt sick. I suspect it was from gorging myself, not the berry. It also probably had something to do with those swigs of gin, vodka and tequila that tasted of gin, vodka and tequila.
And to follow up on Lisa's fear of: "What if my tongue stays like this forever?" Once home, she texted: "Just tasted lemon; it's sour."