I first came across miracle fruit in a New York Times article back in May. The article described a mysterious red berry from West Africa that could change the flavors of foods. Allegedly, this strange little fruit would make limes taste like candy and had the alchemistic power to make cheap tequila taste top-shelf-pure. Needless to say, I was intrigued. And not just because of the implications for Mexican restaurants and fraternity parties – I was curious about what other culinary tricks this small berry could play.
A few minutes of web searching for “miracle fruit” and “miracle berry” turned up a handful of shady websites offering the extremely perishable berries at high prices with dubiously vague shipping dates. I had a Gourmet Club party coming up and I didn’t have a warm fuzzy feeling about paying $70 for a (potentially snake oil) party gag that might not even arrive on time. Then, I stumbled across miracle fruit tablets, a freeze dried version of the magic berry. The tablets are far less expensive and don’t suffer from the same short shelf life as their fresh counterparts, so I decided to take the plunge.
My reservations about the water-to-wine promises of the fruit, whose active ingredient is called miraculin (just slightly scienceier than “flavor crystals”), were not eased when I saw the packaging. Written mostly in (what I think is Chinese), these few English words appear on the back:
Product name: Mysterious Fruit Tablets
Ingredients: Mysterious Fruit Powder, Corn starch
Production Factory: Taiwan Panbiotic Labratories Co., LTD
Oh, that’s much better! Now I know what’s in these mysterious fruit tablets. Duh! Mysterious fruit powder!
Following the instructions I’d read online, I let the tablet dissolve on my tongue for about a minute, sloshing it around to cover all my tastebuds. The tablets themselves don’t have much flavor; actually, they taste kinda like Flintstones Vitamins.
I must confess, I was half expecting to slip into a hallucinogenic trance, pupils dilated, with The Doors suddenly playing in the background and a kaleidoscope of limes and grapefruit dancing around me like Oompa-Loompas.
But, in fact, I felt fine. The room didn’t spin, my cat didn’t start talking in the voice of Henry Kissinger, and my throat didn’t swell shut. The inside of my mouth tasted as familiar as ever, and I began to wonder if these pills were authentic, or perhaps just leftover rebranded Fen-phen. I bit, with hesitation and anxiety, into a freshly sliced lime. It tasted sweet. I waited patiently for the puckering, sour sensation that usually grasps my tongue, but it never came. “OMG, these things are working!” My hesitation melted into relief and my anxiety was displaced with excitement. Then I raided my fridge and pantry for anything and everything that I could taste “under the influence”. My results are below. Like an American child comparing word pronunciation with a British exchange student, sometimes the results were novel; other times were dissapointing, at best.
|Food Group||Food||Miracle Factor||Comments|
|Lime||+10||Very dramatic! A must-try.|
|Lemon||+9||Strong difference; no pucker|
|Grapefruit||+5||Much sweeter, as if sugar added|
|Orange||+5||Like the sweetest orange of your life|
|Watermelon||+3||Sweet, but just tastes like great watermelon|
|Kalamata olive||-3||Sweeter, yes, but a little wierd. Not pleasurable|
|Bleu cheese olive||-2||Different, but not good|
|Pickled onion||-5||Way nasty|
|Cornishon||+4||Tasted like a sweet mini pickle|
|Balsamic vinegar||-3||Sweet, but the back-throat burn ruins it|
|Mild goat cheese||+8||Tastes like cream cheese|
|Stilton (blue cheese)||+4||Tastes sweet and rich, like brie|
|Shaved Parmesan||+1||Not much difference|
|Olive oil||+1||Tasted sweeter, but not much effect|
|Peanut butter||-||No effect|
|Nutella||+1||Already sweet enough|
|Sugar cube||-||No effect|
Apparently, miracle fruit is now starting to hit the mainstream. You can buy the very same freeze-dried tablets I tasted from ThinkGeek to try them out for yourself. If you do go flavor tripping, I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below. What tasted good to you?