By now, the phrase "miracle food" probably makes you roll your eyes at least a little bit. You hold a package of acai berries in the grocery store and side-eye them, wondering if they're really going to solve all your problems. And will this kale actually make your neighbor stop mowing his lawn at 5am?
But the miracle berry, as it's commonly known, really is different.
It doesn't claim to have wild health benefits. Instead, it physically changes the way you taste things for a brief period of time. Goat cheese tastes like cheesecake. Hot sauce tastes like donut glaze. But how does it work?
The basics of taste
If you've seen the tongue map, the one that says the front of the tongue picks up sour flavors and the back picks up bitterness, that's not accurate. Taste receptors are evenly distributed all over the tongue.
But think of them like puzzle pieces--or charging ports. When you eat or drink something, the food molecules light off their matching receptors. Lemon juice molecules plug into the "sour" receptors. Maple syrup plugs into the "sweet" receptors."
The origin of the miracle berry
The "miracle berry" is a literal berry native to Western Africa. In 1725, a roving French explorer, the Chevalier des Marchais, noticed the locals eating the berry and documented its apparent use. Over centuries, it eventually made its way to the United States with the help of a botanist, and people started looking up and taking note.
The berry is properly known as Synsepalum dulcificum, and it contains a chemical called miraculin that briefly weirds your taste receptors (30 mins to 1 hour). This means that when you bite into a lemon, those "sour" molecules activate your "sweet" receptors instead, and everything tastes like a glorious sugary wonderland without the caloric intake.
Berry or tablet?
These berries have a cult-like underground following, so there are definitely ways to get your hands on the actual fruit. But assuming you don't have a plant in your backyard, it can get pretty expensive--a single berry can cost $2, and their shelf life is incredibly short.
Some companies, like Mberry, have given the berry a second life in the form of a tablet, which takes away that whole "perishable" thing. Plus, you get far more bang for your buck, with a per-tablet price hovering around sixty cents.
How to get your own taste test going
Well, you won't be able to use the harmless berry as a miracle sweetener anytime soon, due to a mysterious ruling in 1974 by the FDA.
But in the meantime, people often throw flavor-tripping parties, in which the host provides the berries or tablets alongside an array of traditionally sour, bitter, or spicy food. After coating their tastebuds with the miraculin, guests are off to the races, ready to experience the culinary world in an entirely unexpected way.
Even our company, Desert Canvas, has jumped on bandwagon by hosting flavor tripping parties.
Though miraculin may not be an on-the-shelf sugar substitute for a while, it's still readily available for a fun night of food experimentation. And while we all wish there were a magic pill to fix our woes, at least this one really can turn lemons into lemonade.