7 Aug 2010


For some time now, there has been somewhat of a hype about the miraculous berry that makes everything sour taste sweet. Some time ago, I ordered a packet of dried and powdered miracle fruit tablets and gave it a try. The following post gives some background and the results of a truly fascinating experience.

The miracle fruit is a a berry containing the glycoprotein miraculin with the unlikely effect that when your taste buds meet this substance, you taste sour foods as they were sweet. That is, your perception of sourness is altered. In certain parts of the world, the substance has been used for quite long, whereas in USA and Europe it has not yet been cleared for use as additive. The berry in itself is allowed, but unfortunately they don't keep for long and are apparently not suited for shipping fresh. However, a freeze dried version made into tablets does exist and this is the version I tried.

There is quite some amount of research on the effect and mechanism of miraculin on our tongue as a google scholar search for "miraculin" reveals. The first scientific report was in Nature as early as in 1968. There is also research indicating that other plants exhibit similar effects, such as curculin from the Curculigo latifolia plant. The miraculin protein structure shown here is taken from the Swiss protein structure homology-modeling service.*

An ordinary google search gives various producers and web shops for buying the stuff. Adding to the fun are the conspiration theory-like suggestions (two refs.) of the sugar industry's ways of stopping miraculin approval in the USA since the product might reduce the population's consumption of sugar (which of course is beneficial for everyone except the sugar industry). There are also efforts being made on producing the miraculin glycoprotein using genetic engineering methods, and I guess the hope is that one might efficiently produce miraculin or a relative using common plants or organisms such as lettuce or E-coli bacteria (same as is done with production of other proteins/enzymes such as medicinal insulin or rennet for cheesemaking).