Tricking your taste buds
How one fruit causes sour food to taste sweet
By Brian Nyakundi
Imagine the initial unpleasant and jarring sour taste that comes from biting into a lime. Now imagine biting into the same lime and instead tasting an explosion of pleasing sweetness. Believe it or not, there exists a way to make this possible. Mberry Miracle Fruit tablets can dissolve on your tongue, tricking your taste buds into making sour foods taste sweet. The tablet is made from a small bright red fruit known as miracle fruit or Synsepalum dulcificum, a fruit native to Ghana. The fruit itself is bland in taste and is not relatively sweet however, when eaten it has the ability to make bitter and sour foods taste sweet. With one tablet, you can bite into a granny smith apple like it was candy or drink a glass of lime juice as if it was Kool-Aid. This sounds like black magic or sorcery; how can it possibly happen? Well let’s see how it works.
Miracle fruit contains a protein called miraculin which acts as a sweetness stimuli. To understand how this protein works, we must first understand how our tongue works. The tongue is covered with numerous taste buds (Lingual Papillae). Each taste bud works as receptors to translate food chemicals into electrical signals telling our brain what we are tasting. The taste buds contain proteins which bind to food molecules to help us recognize the five taste sensations: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami. When you suck on a miracle fruit tablet, miraculin attaches itself directly to the sweet receptors on your tongue. Under neutral pH (pH 7) miraculin represses the sweet receptors, preventing them from picking up sweet flavors in food like sugar. However, under acidic conditions from sour foods, miraculin does the opposite – it intensifies your sweet receptors making them extra sensitive. The pH drop caused by eating sour foods changes miraculin’s shape. In doing so, it also changes the shape of the sweet receptors miraculin is bound to, causing a sensation of excessive sweetness which overpowers the sour taste. Not only does miracle fruit have the power to turn sour foods sweet, but it also intensifies the sweet taste in sour foods. Fear not, though miracle fruit changes your taste buds, the effect usually lasts about one hour but can range from 30 minutes to 2 hours.
While most people use miracle fruit for recreational purposes, it has been used for centuries in Ghana to enhance the flavor of food. In the 1970s, Miralin, an American company tried to develop miraculin (the protein found in miracle fruit) as a low-calorie sweetener. However, before they could take their product to market the US Food and Drug Administration classified miraculin as a food additive subjecting it to further testing. Conspiracy theorists believe that this ruling was influenced by the sugar industry to prevent loss of revenue. Miracle fruit has great benefits for cancer patients being treated with chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiation therapy usually suffer from a loss of appetite due to the metallic and bland taste food acquires after treatments. Miracle fruit can mask this overwhelming metallic taste allowing cancer patients to enjoy a simple meal. Miracle fruit has also been shown to help diabetes patients with insulin resistance. The fruit can improve insulin sensitivity in diabetes patients, naturally helping them reduce their sugar intake without having to giving up their favorite foods, drinks or dessert.
While miracle fruit may have some therapeutic reasons for its use, there is only one reason you need to taste it. Flipping your world of taste upside down! Get yourself some tablets, your family and friends, and let the journey down flavor tripping lane begin!