Growing in the humid lowlands of West Africa, theSynsepalum dulcificum, or "miracle berry" plant was used for thousands of years in the cuisine of local people before its discovery by a European explorer in 1725.
Commissioned by the King of France, cartographer Reynaud des Marchais observed the local people, probably in present-day Benin, eating the berry before each meal. Following suit, Monsieur des Marchais was not prepared for what happened next.
The color, size and general texture of a cranberry, the miracle berry works an unusual kind of magic on the taste buds.
Its secret is a glycoprotein called Miraculin. When the berry is chewed thoroughly, this substance is released into the mouth, where it binds with the receptors on the tongue known as our taste buds. The protein tricks the taste buds into perceiving flavors as sweet, even when they are not. Traditionally very sour fruits such as limes or lemons are transformed into a citrusy-sweet sensation on the tongue. Tabasco Sauce becomes as sweet as cupcake icing. Radishes lose their sharp bite and taste as sweet as fruit.
Depending on the intensity of exposure to the miraculin compound, the effect can last for up to 90 minutes. The berry itself is not very sweet, but is instead slightly tart in flavor. It also does not have a long shelf life, so fresh berries are most likely consumed in tablet form, like MiraBurst's Easy-Melt Miracle Fruit Tablets.
The miracle berry tablet is a chewable pill-sized tablet made from freeze-dried, de-pulped berries.
Tasting parties have become popular recently, with hosts offering each guest a berry and encouraging them to try a myriad of foods in order to experience the abrupt change in flavor triggered by the berry's unusual properties. Foods usually avoided for their strong flavors are transformed into wholly different taste experiences and the fun of rediscovering the taste of typical foods makes these berries highly sought after for the novelty experience.
There are other uses for the berry beyond the fun of trying new flavor combinations.
The fruit's ability to sweeten sour and acidic foods and beverages, coupled with the fact that there are no known ill effects to consuming it is perfect for diabetics and others who are unable to consume carbohydrates but still want the essence of sweet flavor in their food. In addition, the berry has been found to contain twelve active polyphenols that help prevent diabetes and also help stabilize blood sugar and prevent episodes of low blood glucose in diabetic patients. It also contains flavonoids with strong antioxidant properties which may help prevent some type of cancers including skin cancer. There is also the current use by cancer patients who experience the side effect of a metallic taste in their mouths as a result of their chemotherapy treatments.
Whether used as a natural enhancement to flavor ordinary foods, a whimsical premise for a tasting party, a natural food sweetener or as a way to allow cancer patients and diabetics to eat certain foods, this miraculous berry is a promising addition to the food experience of people across the globe, just as it has been to the people of its native Africa for thousands of years.