Miracle fruit — I’m a believer!

[Update 3/30/07: Miracle fruit in the Wall Street Journal! Read about it here.]

A few days ago I received an invitation from my friend and EatFoo co-blogger David Barzelay to try some “miracle fruit.” According to rumor, this unusual fruit possesses an amazing property. Eating one temporarily alters one’s sense of taste, making sour, bitter foods taste sweet and delicious. People in West Africa, native home to miracle fruit, have reportedely used it for centuries to make their diets more palatable.

It’s also a literally forbidden fruit. Attempts to market it and its active protein miraculin to diabetics were mysteriously thwarted by the FDA in the 1970s, relegating miracle fruit to underground cult status. David, however, had found a source willing to ship a supply next day air to DC from Florida.

Given David’s history of practical jokes, I was skeptical at first. Miracle fruit? Works with “miraculin?” Sounded like just the kind of crazy thing he would make up. But if it was a joke, the Athananius Kircher Society was in on it too. So with barely a touch of trepidation, I told David I was in. Besides, if worst came to worst, “libertarian foodie dies eating fruit banned by the FDA” is about the most appropriate obituary headline I could ever imagine for myself, so there was really nothing to lose.

The miracle fruit party was last night. I arrived to find a group of twenty-five or so curious people, a spread of citrus items, and, wrapped up in a Ziploc bag in the refrigerator, a bunch of little red fruits: the understated star of the show, miracle fruit.

They’re bright red, about the size of an olive, odorless, and just a little bit soft. The center is mostly pit. To get the most of them, David explained that we should chew the pulpy part for about a minute and coat as much of our mouth as possible with it. Then we’d be free to spit or swallow and experience the magic of miraculin.

We started out by taking a quick taste of lime, just to get a fresh impression of what lime tastes like. Then we passed around a plate of miracle fruits, all of us taking one like eager cultists taking punch. A minute went by as we swirled the stuff around in our mouths.

The fruit itself is mostly tasteless, though slightly sweet. The pit is surrounded by a weird, slick layer of pulp. It’s not bad to eat, but one would get bored with it pretty quickly. The true test came next, as we again sampled the lime. The result? Utter astonishment. The very same lime we’d tried moments before suddenly tasted like it had been dipped in sugar. All the stinging acidity was gone, leaving only the pleasing citrus and an amazing sensation of sweetness that left us craving more.

Our sense of taste completely transformed, we orgiastically began sampling everything we could get our hands on. Lemons tasted like lemonade. Meyer lemons tasted like the sweetest oranges. Grapefruits tasted awesome, and I don’t even like grapefruit. Goat cheese tasted like candy. Brooklyn Brewery’s Black Chocolate Stout tasted bigger and sweeter than ever. (One of us had never had a stout before. After drinking stout with miraculin, every other will probably be doomed to disappoint.)

My own contributions were a beer and a coffee. The beer was Magic Hat’s Roxy Rolles seasonal ale, which kept its intriguing flavor while losing its normally hoppy bite. For my friend who doesn’t like hoppy American beers, the miracle fruit “fixed” it.

The coffee was Counter Culture’s Rwanda Karaba, which is well-balanced and boasts some rich fruit notes. This was the one thing that the miracle fruit didn’t seem to change much for me, except perhaps for a very slight increase in sweetness. One of the other guys was amazed that he was able to drink it black, but I’m not sure if that was the result of the miracle fruit or if he just wasn’t used to drinking really good coffee.

The bottom line: miracle fruit is amazing. Imagine a party of people chomping into lemons and limes with abandon, and you’ve got an idea of its power.

As miracle fruit devotees have noted, this produce ought to be more than just a foodie’s underground novelty item. Aside from being interesting on its own merits, it has practical applications. Before the FDA stepped in it received a warm reception among diabetics who were able to enjoy sweet flavors without worrying about their sugar intake. Dieters could use it to avoid items high in calories, which is how one dessert spot in Japan markets the stuff. In Japan it’s even being sold in tablet form now. In the US, I bet innovative restaurants would do well with a dessert course of miracle fruit, citrus, and cheese.

Alas, the FDA’s refusal to allow marketing of miracle fruit has kept it an unknown treasure. The exact reasons for the ban are unknown. Perhaps lobbyists from the sugar industry blocked its approval. Or perhaps it was for the children; the FDA feared miraculin would mask the taste of aspirin and other things that are toxic in high quanities, causing kids under its influence to chow down on them. This lengthy article on miracle fruit says that miracle fruit doesn’t actually have that effect. Aspirin wasn’t on our tasting menu last night, but I believe it. The article also presents a lot of other evidence that the fruit is completely safe.

But who cares about the sugar industry? Who cares about the children? I’m not sure exactly what the FDA ban entails, whether it’s on all sales, all marketing, or just marketing as a sugar substitute. In any case, miracle fruit is awesome. Everyone should be able to try the stuff. A fruit this fun deserves a wider audience.

[Cross-posted on EatFoo.]

Update: Abi has photos.

Update 3/5/07: Recaps from Abi and David.

Update 7/8/08: I’ve now tried the miracle fruit tablets, which are easier to handle, and reviewed them here.

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77 thoughts on “Miracle fruit — I’m a believer!”

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  4. When I was a kid living in Denmark in the 70’s my dad had this friend who was trying to market ‘miracle berries’ commercially in tablet shape. He gave our family some test samples in blister packs which I used to steal from our kitchen.

    Just at that time me and my pals were heavily into candy, using our pocket money and lunch breaks to sneak outside school to purchase bags full; it was always a matter of status who could afford the most.

    So I gained a whole lot of notoriety dispensing this unknown potion to the select few; something new that could elevate our sugar fixation to the sublime.

    Sure, bragging that it was made from some obscure African berry and probably unavailable elsewhere in the Western world didn’t exactly hurt my reputation either. Well, for a short time at least, I only managed to score a dozen of the pills or so.

    But I remember the effect vividly, and it really was a very funny experience.

    At the time there was a craze for “suicide” drops, which were extremely sour, salt, hot, ammonium-chloridic, etc., just all manner of ‘dare-ya’ tastes. Mixing these and enhancing the experience further by chewing miracle tablets beforehand amounted to a virtual tastebud-trip to us 12-year olds (well, actually it kind of mellowed it out a bit by sweetening it, but hey, we survived!).

    Well, of course my dad’s friend’s scheme didn’t go much further (I can see now why he failed to attract any investors; as a sugar substitute it definitely overreaches, and besides, how to market something that basically alters your perceptions?).

    This is the first time I’ve heard mention of the Synsepalum dulcificum plant since then, so many thanks for bringing back those sweet (and slightly psychedelic…) childhood memories.

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  6. has anyone tried soaking the leaves in hot water and drink it? I’ve tried, and seemed to get some stimulant effect, like more energy and appetite suppressant.

  7. I saved the pit and planted it this morning. Apparently according to wikipedia it has around 20% chance of germinating. But it takes 8-10 yrs. for the tree to bear fruit! So if it works, plan on another tasting party. For hmmm. 2017?

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  9. Miracle fruit is exactly what it is miracalous. I live in Freeport,Bahamas and when I was first given this berry to taste I was skeptical AWESOME

  10. i have 200 miracle fruit plant with me in malaysia.donot hesitate to call me
    6012-2337937.tq.

  11. Nice to meet you.
    Our company is a company in Japan that sells the miracle fruit tablet.
    The distributing agent is recruited all over the world now.
    In this commodity, it is only in Japan that sells with the commodity that took
    the world patent in 2006.
    Our company plans to sell it in all parts of the world in the future.
    It is effective, and a very safe commodity to the diabetic and dieting.
    The cafe of the miracle fruit is made, too and it is very popular in Japan.
    Please E-mail an interesting person.

    info@ks2000system.com

  12. Hi, I’m a believer too, I’m also growing trees. I live in Puerto Rico so the weather is good for them. I would like to know more about why the FDA banned it.

  13. I sell fresh miracle fruit in the US. It is picked and shipped fresh from Florida. The price it $1.50 per fruit plus shipping (usually $16.25). I can be reached at miracle[@]ethanbradley.com.

  14. Hello,

    I am currently selling Miracle Fruit tablets (from Japan) over ebay or direclty at berry.miracle@gmail.com (7.99 GBP with shipping + 6 GBP each additional box if you order directly and mention you saw my post here:). I am not planning to do a serious business out of it; that’s why the price is more than reasonable..

    Search on ebay.co.uk: “miracle fruit berry”.

    Thanks!

    mirberry

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  16. some videos on my site,

    we selll the latest evolution of Miracle Fruit

    We Airmail world wide from the UK.

    Guaranteed Lowest price and first to receive English packing world wide.

  17. This is the first time I have heard about the “Miracle Fruit”.
    Sounds like something to try. As I am forever on a diet and my weakness is sweets. I will writing a blog entry on the “miracle fruit” at http://troysmiracle.com

    Thanks for sharing
    Meg

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