I’ve had many opportunities to try fresh miracle fruit, the strange African berry that makes sour foods taste sweet, but before this weekend I’d never sampled the miracle fruit tablets that are widely available in Asia. They’ve been unavailable in the US because of a dubious decision by the FDA to deny miraculin, the fruit’s active protein, status as a “generally recognized as safe” ingredient. There’s no reason to think it’s harmful and many suspect that lobbying by the artificial sweetener industry was behind the classification (see articles by The Wall Street Journal or BBC). Instead we in the US have only been able to purchase the fruit itself, a perishable, expensive, hard-to-find berry that only grows in warm weather and acidic soil.
That’s finally changing. Given the growing interest in experiencing the effects of miraculin, a few websites have sprung up to import and sell the tablets. Made entirely of corn starch and “Mysterious Fruit Powder,” these tablets replicate the effects of miracle fruit. Miracle Fruit Express was nice enough to send me a sample for review.
“These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration,” cautions the instruction page that came with the package of miracle fruit tablets. “This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Although there have been no reported ill effects, or any known side-effects, we cannot guarantee your safety and can not be held liable for any damage or loss of life.”
That’s not the most comforting thing to read on a package of pills that’s just been sent you by an internet vendor, but knowing that miracle fruit has been used for centuries and having tried it many times myself, I tore into the box without concern.
They’re produced by the Sen Yuh Farm Science Company in Taiwan. The package says, “It is the most amazing sugar substitute known to man. It is 100% natural, has hardly any calories, and no known adverse side effects and is, all in all, good for health.”
As with fresh miracle fruit, the key to making the tablets work is to let them roll around the tongue and coat the taste buds as thoroughly as possible. The tablets are mildly sweet, with a vaguely cherry-like flavor. They take about a minute to dissolve. Then, it’s time for dessert! From the food I have at home (i.e. cocktail garnishes), I assembled a plate of lemons, limes, strawberries, and a shot of fresh-squeezed lemon juice to taste after using the tablet.
The taste transformation is everything I remember from my first sample of miracle fruit. The lemon and lime slices were like tart candy, the juice was pleasant to drink on its own, and the strawberries brought me back to the ones covered in confectioner’s sugar I used to eat as a kid. I couldn’t get enough of them. The effect is certainly stronger than what I’ve experienced recently with frozen berries, which tend to lose some of their potency.
Are the tablets better than the berries? Not necessarily. There’s something magical about eating a rare, fragile fruit that makes ordinary sour foods taste sweet. In a culture that’s accustomed to pills that can end our depression, put us to sleep, and extend our sex lives, getting the same effect from a tablet isn’t quite as amazing. But the fruit has some major disadvantages: it goes bad quickly, it’s costly to ship, and it’s in limited supply. Tablets last longer and can be taken any time. It’s easy to imagine dieters, diabetics, and adventurous foodies keeping a couple of them in their pockets for an afternoon treat. They couldn’t do that with the berries.
Though they lack the romance of the fruit, the tablets are cheaper and far more practical. If it weren’t for the government’s restrictive regulations, I’m sure they’d be as readily available here as they are in Asia. You can buy them now from Miracle Fruit Express. They currently go for $25 for 10, $40 for 20, and $90 for 55. Shipping is included (a nice change from the overnight shipping required for the fresh berries). For anyone who wants to sample miracle fruit without having to wait for a new crop or risk letting the berries go rotten, the tablets are a great way to try it out.
But you don’t have to take my word for it. Watch this: