Buy miracle fruit

Looking to buy miracle fruit? Our provider’s contact info is here.

Update 4/28/08: Miracle fruit on the BBC today! Details here. Miracle fruit seller Curt Mozie how has a website, www.miraclefruitman.com. I recommend contacting him if you want to try the fruit.

Update 7/8/08: I’ve now also tried miracle fruit tablets and reviewed them here.

Miracle fruit in the WSJ

Today’s center column on the front page of the Wall Street Journal is all about this blog’s favorite berry, miracle fruit. I held a tasting of the fruit for friends a few weeks ago. In a weird sequence of events, what I expected to be a small group of foodies turned into a sizeable party, and one of the guests was none other than the reporter writing this article. The night’s festivities are covered in the opening of the story. The offbeat center column of the Journal has always been one of my favorite features in the paper, so it’s bit of a thrill being in it.

The article [update: temporary, ungated link], which is only available to subscribers, has lots of fascinating new info about the fruit. Of special interest is the inside scoop on the murky regulatory standing of miraculin:

Miracle fruit remains in a kind of regulatory limbo in the U.S. It’s perfectly fine to grow and sell it, because the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t require prior approval to sell fresh fruits, though it can intercede if it suspects problems. The trickier part comes when people try to use it as an additive in other foods. That’s when regulators start asking questions.

Two American entrepreneurs, Robert Harvey and Don Emery, tried this route back in the 1970s but the venture ended in heartbreak. Their initial focus was on products for diabetics, but some of their financial backers, which included Reynolds Metals Co. and Barclays Bank PLC, had a loftier goal. “They were interested in replacing half the sugar industry in the world,” Mr. Harvey says.

Mr. Harvey figured out how to turn miracle fruit into a dried powder and then a tablet. His company, Miralin Co., explored making everything from chewing gum to a miraculin-coated drinking straw. It developed recipes for diabetics which assumed people would pop a miracle-fruit tablet before eating the results.

Reynolds, now part of Alcoa, then owned the Eskimo Pie brand of frozen snacks and suggested trying miraculin-coated ice pops. In the summer of 1974, a group of Harvard Business School students conducted ice-pop taste tests on Boston playgrounds, giving children a choice between regular ice pops and miraculin-coated ones. The children preferred the latter by a wide margin, Mr. Harvey says.

That same year brought a big setback: The FDA sent a letter calling miraculin a “food additive” requiring years of testing. The letter effectively scuttled the venture, which was on the verge of selling products and wasn’t prepared to spend money on extensive testing. Miralin filed for bankruptcy and fired 280 employees. It’s only in the past five years that “I’m able about to laugh about this instead of crying,” says Mr. Harvey, now 75 years old, who went on to a lucrative career making blood pumps used in heart surgery.

The suspicions of libertarian foodies are confirmed: the government is to blame for our lack of delicious, miraculin laced food products.

For the how my tasting party ended up in the Journal and how a failed postal delivery almost ruined the evening, read on.

After David Barzelay’s wonderful miracle fruit party two months ago and our much-linked blog entries about it, several of my friends expressed an interest in trying the fruit for themselves. The fruit has a fixed shipping cost, so it’s much more cost effective to order for a group than to order individually. So, expecting just a few people to actually be interested in coming to a party where we eat a strange, semi-illicit fruit, suck on lemons, and screw up our taste for beer and wine, I sent out an email inviting some friends over to a party of my own. To my surprise, lots of people said yes.

The fruit wasn’t going to arrive in time for the original party date, so at the last minute I had to push it back a week. This happened to be extremely fortunate, because three days later I got an email from Wall Street Journal reporter Joanna Slater. She had found my blog entry and wanted to do a story on miracle fruit. In addition to answering her questions, I invited her along to the tasting. Amazingly, she accepted the offer and agreed to come all the way down from New York to attend this exceedingly strange party.

The party was scheduled for Friday, March 2. On Thursday at 4:00 pm I still didn’t know if the fruit was going to be ripe enough to mail. Finally, around 4:30, I got a call from the supplier confirming the shipping details. We double checked the address, made sure no signature would be required for delivery, and sealed the deal. The miracle fruit party was on! I emailed the guests and Joanna to tell them we’d be tasting the next day. Everything seemed to be lined up perfectly, but Friday wasn’t going to be that easy. It went something like this:

2:00 pm: I get off work at to make sure I have plenty of time to set up the party. As I walk to my doorstep, I eagerly await the site of the miracle fruit package. As I get closer, I see there is no package. And when I finally ascend the stairs, I see my worst fear: a failed delivery notice! I drop a major F-bomb.

2:45: I run to the local post office. They tell me there’s nothing they can do because my package is on the truck. I press further and they give me the phone number of the area headquarters.

2:48 The guy at headquarters tells me I’m screwed. I tell him that’s a very big problem, that it’s their fault, and that I really need to get this package. Eventually he hands me off to the supervisor. We’ll call her Mary. Mary assures me that I can come pick up the package at Arlington headquarters when the truck comes in. That should be around 5:30, and since she’s there till 8, I should have no problem at all. I feel much better now.

3:00 I pick up my friend Chad, who’s kindly hosting the party at his apartment, and we go grocery shopping for the party. We buy ungodly amounts of citrus fruits and dark beer. The cashier thinks we’re odd. She’s right.

5:10 Taking no chances, I drive to headquarters and park in the lot. I call Mary and ask about the package. She says my neighborhood truck has arrived and puts me on hold while she looks for it.

5:11 Um, why is this taking so long?

5:12 Mary can’t find the package.

5:13 Mary looks again. I try to figure out what I’m going to tell Joanna and the other 40 guests when they arrive at Chad’s house if Mary can’t find this thing.

5:14 Nope, still not there. She concludes the driver must have dropped it off at my local post office for some reason instead. The post office I visited earlier. The one that closed 14 minutes ago. This is not looking good.

5:21 I race back to the local post office and park, possibly illegally. It’s closed, but I hear workers lingering behind the metal screens. I bang on a screen until they talk to me. I tell them Mary sent me and they finally open a door.

5:23 They say Mary must be crazy. They don’t have the package and there’s no way the driver brought it here. It’s got to be back at headquarters. They call Mary again. She looks again. At this point I’ve pretty much given up hope. Yet, amazingly, she finds it. She says it’s in her hands. Apparently, the post office was experimenting with a new system for delivering overnight packages, so it ended up on a different truck than it normally would.

5:35 I drive back to headquarters, my gas light flicking on empty for the third time, and call Mary again. I walk into the wrong door, accidentally invading the loading dock. I find Mary, she hands me the precious package, and I sign it out. All is right with the world. I’m very grateful to Mary. I hope I make it to the gas station.

Obviously, everything worked out great in the end and the party was a complete success. People were shooting pure lemon juice and loving every second of it, beers sat half empty all around the apartment, and more citrus fruit was consumed in one night than I have ever seen.

[Cross-posted at EatFoo.]

Spotting and attracting UFOs

Tyler Cowen has started an entertaining blog meme about silly things people used to believe as a child, based on this site.

When I was really little I used to believe that two of my stuffed animals would come alive when my parents left the room. One was a big dog, the other a big bull. The bull would attack me mercilessly and the dog would protect me. My parents eventually had to give the evil bull away to a friend’s kid, whom I can only assume was also terrorized by it.

I also used to believe that aliens from outer space frequently visited our planet and that I had seen one of their ships once. I even started several UFO clubs in elementary school, enlisting my friends in the search.

Since I’m back home in Texas for the weekend, I dug into my old stuff to find a folder collecting papers from those clubs. The results are fun. According to the membership list, the goal of our club was “U.F.O. spotting and attracting.” If I had a plan at the time for the attracting part, I can’t remember it now. Perhaps attracting was a moot point, because I know that for weeks after watching Close Encounters of the Third Kind I was terrified of being abducted. Repelling UFOs should have been my real concern.

The folder includes a paper titled “Thing to watch out for that might not be UFO’s.” It’s an extensive list, republished here as a public service for others who think they may have seen a UFO. Might it have really been:

flags
planes
clouds
towers
balloons
watertowers
signs
meateers [meat eaters? No, meteors!]
stars
birds [that light up?]
dogs [really?]
stores [because of the lights, I guess]
restrants [restaurants -- again, the lights]
trees [?]
buildings [that fly!]

Assuming the thing we saw wasn’t a dog or a building but a real UFO, we had a handy guide telling us what to do about the sighting:

take pictures
tell mother
discribe on paper

Crazy as the belief was, we actually were kind of precociously skeptical and objective about it.

Update 3/29/07: Spot a UFO, become governor of Arizona!

The ‘A before Abba’ challenge

Problem: iTunes lists artists alphabetically. For my playlist, this makes Abba “Gold” the first thing listed. And while I do enjoy Abba very occasionally (as do you!), it’s not the first thing I want people to see when they glance at my music collection.

Solution: Find an artist with a name that comes before Abba. This pretty much limits the options to guys named Aaron and a few other names. I thought I solved the problem with Aaron Copland, but classical CDs are listed by conductor.

So who’s an artist worth listening to and whose name would knock Abba off the top of my list? I’m open to suggestions.

(I know I could change the names or sort by a different field, but that would be cheating.)

Update 3/26/07: Some good suggestions so far. Numbers and punctuation marks are the key. Thanks, guys!

Update 3/29/07: Success! Er, partially. One of my favorite music blogs, I Guess I’m Floating, posted an .mp3 today of !!! covering the Magnetic Fields’ “Take Ecstasy With Me.” It’s a pretty good track, but more importantly it shows up before Abba on my iTunes playlist. It’s only one song, but it’s a start!

The IGIF post also includes the Arcade Fire covering the Magnetic Fields, so check it out here.

Indictments in the Wells murder

In researching the January post about the hypocrisy of smoking ban proponents who order pizza delivery, I was reminded of the tragic and bizarre case of Brian Douglas Wells. You may remember the story. Wells was a pizza delivery driver in Erie, Pennsylvania. One afternoon in 2003 he left for a delivery and resurfaced soon after to rob a bank. When police arrived, Wells revealed that the delivery address had been for a deserted radio tower and that when he got there assailants tied a time bomb around his neck. Unless he obeyed their orders, he said, the bomb would go off. As he begged for help from the police, the bomb did go off, killing him. The strange case remained unsolved for years and some attest that the police could have saved Wells’ life if they had taken his story more seriously.

Officials now say the case is closed and indictments will be forthcoming. That’s all they’re saying at the moment, and even though I hate the media hype around high profile cases I have been drawn in by the mystery of this one. There’s more background on the murder here.

Wine czars, not wine cars

I’ve written before about Utah’s backward approach to wine laws, namely the fact that a single “wine czar” gets to decide what wines the citizens are allowed to purchase in the state-run liquor stores. But it gets worse:

It took 10 years, but one miffed citizen finally figured out the word “merlot,” emblazoned on the license plate of Glenn Eurick’s car, means wine.

Merlot is also the name of a widely planted red grape in France’s Bordeaux region, famous for its wines. But the Utah Tax Commission has sided with an anonymous complainant that merlot is an alcoholic beverage – and intoxicant words are banned from vanity plates.

“People usually ask us what the word means,” said Eurick, who was surprised last week when he received a letter from the Tax Commission ordering him to remove the offending plate from his dark-red 1996 Mercedes.

Eurick said most Utah bystanders wonder aloud if merlot is a family name or a foreign word. But when he and his wife stopped for gasoline in Green River on their way home to Salt Lake City, one man understood the significance of the word.

“He asked us if we chose merlot because there were too many letters in cabernet sauvignon,” said Eurick.

Eurick is appealing the ruling with the argument that the word refers to the color of his car, not the wine. Another Utah driver has been told to remove his “chianti” plate and replace it with the name of a lesser known French wine region, because not only are regulators there prudish but they also have very poor knowledge of geography.

[Via Fermentation.]

Better than an orc belt

The wi-fi detecting, glowing belt was one of the geekier and least fashionable ideas in this blog’s history. The “beating heart” pocket detector described at Make is much cooler and much more subtle.

[Via BoingBoing.]

Free Starbucks coffee tomorrow

I would never encourage you to buy Starbucks coffee. But if you want to take some, that’s another matter entirely. You can do so tomorrow from 10 to noon.

[Also at STC.]

Baked and Wired tops cupcake contest

Baked and Wired, the coffee shop and bakery where I work as resident coffee expert, was mentioned in the Washington Post today in an article about local cupcakes. Four food writers took part in a tasting and chose B/W as their favorite:

As for what worked and didn’t for our four tasters, well, they all knew which desserts had come from ShoeBox Oven. Our tasters thought the exaggerated presentation, the slightly crushed spun sugar topping and a “prepared” flavor gave ShoeBox Oven away. The group sampled cupcakes — something everyone carried, which made comparing easier — from Baked & Wired, CakeLove and ShoeBox and thought Baked & Wired was tops for its moist cakes and cream cheese frosting.

I’m biased, of course, but I agree with the critics. After more than half a year working here, the cupcakes are the one treat I can’t get enough of. I’ve even been known to the have the occasional cupcake for breakfast. The butter cream icing is just too hard to resist.

CakeLove is more famous in DC, though I’ve never been as excited about their product. Part of the problem is the chill. Supposedly they’ve opened a fresh, room temperature cupcake bar there now, so I owe them another shot.

Buzz, which was mentioned in the article but wasn’t in the taste test, has cupcakes that are pretty good, but also pretty basic. I haven’t tried anything from ShoeBox Oven yet.

My cupcake knowledge pales in comparison to Yelp blogger and B/W customer Julie, so for more cupcake reviews from DC and elsewhere, her page is the place to go.

[Cross-posted at Smelling the Coffee. This post was originally published at EatFoo(d) on 3/14/07.]

Godless congressman

And I mean that as a compliment. From the Secular Coalition for America:

There is only one member of Congress who is on record as not holding a god-belief.

Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.), a member of Congress since 1973, acknowledged his nontheism in response to an inquiry by the Secular Coalition for America (www.secular.org ). Rep. Stark is a senior member of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee and is Chair of the Health Subcommittee.

Although the Constitution prohibits religious tests for public office, the Coalition’s research reveals that Rep. Stark is the first open nontheist in the history of the Congress. [JG: Even I find this surprising.] Recent polls show that Americans without a god-belief are, as a group, more distrusted than any other minority in America. Surveys show that the majority of Americans would not vote for an atheist for president even if he or she were the most qualified for the office.

If you count Republican Ron Paul as a Libertarian, atheists are doing about as well in politics as the LP, which isn’t saying much:

In October, 2006 the Secular Coalition for America, a national lobby representing the interests of atheists, humanists, freethinkers, and other nontheists, announced a contest. At the time, few if any elected officials, even at the lowest level, would self-identify as a nontheist. So the Coalition offered $1,000 to the person who could identify the highest level atheist, agnostic, humanist or any other kind of nontheist currently holding elected public office in the United States.

In addition to Rep. Stark only three other elected officials agreed to do so: Terry S. Doran, president of the School Board in Berkeley, Calif.; Nancy Glista on the School Committee in Franklin, Maine; and Michael Cerone, a Town Meeting Member from Arlington, Mass.

So good for Stark. Alas, he doesn’t seem to be the nicest guy to represent us godless types:

Stark, 71, added to his legend of buffoonery last week when he called Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Colo., “a little wimp” and a “little fruitcake” — and suggested the two should step outside. Capitol police were called to the hearing.

It was reminiscent of the 2001 debate when Stark made a reference to the children of Rep. J.C. Watts, R-Okla., all being “born out of wedlock.” It was not only insulting, it was — as Watts pointedly told Stark in a face-to-face confrontation — not true.

And there was the time he accused Rep. Nancy Johnson, R-Conn., of being a “whore for the insurance industry.” Stark once brought up President Bush’s personal battles with alcohol during a debate on federal funding of faith- based programs.

Yes, this is the same Pete Stark who in 1990 suggested former Health and Human Services Director Louis Sullivan, an African American, was a “disgrace to his race.”

Best response to the story comes from commenter David on Radley’s Reason post about the subject:

Hmmmm, maybe atheism for congressmen is a reversed Pascal’s wager.

Exactly! If being a politician already ups one’s chances of damnation, it’s best to come out as an atheist and score whatever points for honesty one can.

Update 3/13/07: I should have also linked to Radley’s recent piece on America’s misguided distrust of atheist candidates.

Previously:
Trust me, I’m an atheist

Little known facts about nutmeg

From Radley, an economic mystery: why do spices cost less at international stores than at the usual supermarkets? From a reader, the answer’s here.

The lesson to take away is that if you’re ever stocking up on spices, do it at an international shop. The title of his post, “Nutmeggin,” led me to think it was about something else entirely. A few months ago some friends and I got into a conversation about whether or not one could get high on nutmeg. Flatmate Julian claimed no personal experience, but did mention this article describing the alleged effects:

Possible nausea during first hour; may cause vomiting or diarrhea in isolated cases. Takes anywhere from one to five hours for effects to set in. Then expect severe cottonmouth, flushing of skin, severely bloodshot eyes, dilated pupils. Personally I compare it to a very, very heavy hash buzz. “Intense sedation”. Impaired speech and motor functions. Hallucinations uncommon in average (5-10 gm) doses. Generally followed by long, deep, almost coma-like sleep (expect 16 hours of sleep afterward) and feelings of lethargy after sleep. May cause constipation, water retention. Safrole is carcinogenic and toxic to the liver.

Or there’s this ringing endorsement:

I could by this time feel a warmth on my eyes and looked in the mirror to notice they were red and bloodshot, again a very familiar experience to a marijuana user. Nutmeg’s physical effects mimic the marijuana high, but the overall effect more strongly resembles flu.

Another acquaintance in the conversation — the only one with medical training — said this is all untrue, but later recanted. There’s only one way to find out for sure. The miracle fruit parties were fun; who’s up for a nutmeg party?

Or not.

Bonus link: Why Connecticut is known as the “Nutmeg State,” which is only slightly cooler than being known as the “Land of Steady Habits.”

Update 3/12/07: On second thought, I’m not totally happy with the rational ignorance explanation for the spice price difference. As Radley summarizes:

Americans tend to use less spice in their foods than other cultures. Therefore, we don’t comparison shop, we don’t buy in bulk, and spice companies like the behemoth McCormick can bleed us dry. Immigrants from cultures that use a lot more spices and buy them more frequently won’t put up with that. Hence, you can find that the exact same spice selling in the “American” part of the store for five times what it costs in the International section.

If that’s true, it seems like grocery store chains would find easy money in offering private label, lower cost spices. Whole Foods has its own spices, but I don’t recall seeing much from any other store. (I could be mistaken, as I don’t cook often enough to buy many spices. It’s also possible that the barriers to entry in the spice trade are prohibitive enough to prevent private labeling, though I find that hard to believe.) So why would stores let McCormick have all the profit?

Perhaps the higher cost of spices in mainstream grocery stores goes more to cover expensive rents on shelf space than to profits for the spice companies. When people buy a little jar of cumin only once a year or two, they’ve got to pay a premium to make sure it’s available when they want it. The international customers buy often enough to avoid this problem.

The explanation Radley describes is more applicable to price differences within the same store and rational ignorance probably does apply at least partially across the board. I’m just skeptical of it being the whole story for the massive difference between mainstream and international stores when there’s an alternative explanation that doesn’t require consumers acting somewhat stupidly.

Hydrogen cell chariots of the gods

On my enviro-policy blog, we often write about alternative approaches to solving climate change. Somehow I don’t think this idea makes the cut:

A former Canadian defence minister says be believes advanced technology from extraterrestrial civilizations offers the best hope to “save our planet” from the perils of climate change.

Paul Hellyer, 83, is calling for a public disclosure of alien technology obtained during alleged UFO crashes — such as the mysterious 1947 incident in Roswell, New Mexico — because he believes alien species can provide humanity with a viable alternative to fossil fuels.

Mr. Hellyer has been a public UFO advocate since September 2005 when he spoke at a symposium in Toronto. But with concern over global warming at an all-time high, and Canadian political parties struggling to out-green one another, Mr. Hellyer said governments and the military have a responsibility to “come clean on what they know” now more than ever.

“Climate change is the No. 1 problem facing the world today,” he said. “I’m not discouraging anyone from being green conscious, but I would like to see what (alien) technology there might be that could eliminate the burning of fossil fuels within a generation … that could be a way to save our planet.”

The obscure allusion in the title of this post reveals my own historic interest in UFOs . That was a long time ago, before I got into things like Objectivism, libertarianism, and other ideas that are totally sane.

[Via BoingBoing.]

New server

I do appreciate the irony of having my site go down just a few hours after requesting feedback on the content. It’s back now, and hosted on a new, more reliable company called DreamHost. I’ve heard nothing but good things about them, so hopefully this will solve the downtime problems that have plagued the site the last few months.