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).
How does it work (in practice)?
Just pop a tablet of freeze dried miracle fruit in your mouth, let it roll arond until dissolved. It takes about a minute or two and tastes not very much. Rather flavour-/tasteless with some green flavours, tastes somewhat "healthy" if you know what I mean.
And what about the effect?
The effect is remarkable upon tasting various foods subsequent to eating the tablet. The effect lasts for about half an hour.
My sensory impression is that it alters the tongue's sensations, making sour taste sweet. That is, it does not suppress acid/sour taste, but part of the sour taste is converted to sweetness. The sweetness is rather sugary in character. However, some of the sour perception is still there, leaving part of the bite/freshness. It is almost like 70-80 % of the sour is converted to sweet, or somewhat like adding a lot of sugar to the food. In my experience, bitterness is not reduced, as claimed by one of the retailers (see tasting notes below).
The problems might arise later on, however, when you realise how much acidic food you have been swallowing... Below follows a long list of foods and how I felt it tasted (before and) after having the "miracle pill". You'll also find some relevant blog posts and research references if you scroll past the list.
Like sweetened apple squash. Very sweet, too sweet for my taste. Rather cloying.
|Pure ascorbic acid |
Before: intensely sour/sharp. Sour taste overpowers almost every other conceivable flavour.
After: Slightly bitter, resembling sherbet powder. I makes pure ascorbic acid edible (although I wouldn't guarantee any positive health effect, rather the opposite)!
Balsamic vinegar (inexpensive type)
Before: rather acid and far from complex.
After: Sweeter and more mellow. Resembles me of balsamico vinegar reduction without the syrupy texture/consistency (not as viscous as a reduction). Takes the vinegar one notch up in terms of flavour.
Tastes like substantial amount of sugar is added. Well rounded flavour. Like sweetened youghurt but with the tartness and flavour of buttermilk, which is somewhat different from the one you get from youghurt culture. If you like cultured milk products with sugar you'll probably really like this one.
Before: slightly sweet, bitter, a little sour/tart.
After: really sweet with almost no sourness left. The bitterness remains unaltered.
Before: Medium sweet, somewhat tannic from the skins.
After: Very sweet, but with the acidic bite still present. Doesn't taste sour, but still feels fresh (in a way, the acidity is noticeable without being tasted).
Before: Lemony flavour, but very sour/sharp. Acidity is overpowering.
After: Sweet and lemony, like lots of sugar has been added. The acidic bite is present, but perfectly edible as it is. Pleasant.
Before: Lime flavour, but rather sour/sharp. Acidity still overpowering, but less than for the lemon.
After: Sweet and rich lime flavour, like lots of sugar has been added. Still has the acidic bite, but perfectly edible as it is. Very pleasant.
Before: Good, but with marked acidity. Acidity remains on the back of the tongue after swallowing.
After: same as grape
Resemblant of sweetened orange squash. Too sweet for my taste.
|"Sour feet" sweets|
Before: sweet but at the same time rather tart.
After: rather similar to before, but sweeter. The acidic bite is less pronounced (or even lacking)
Does become markedly sweeter and full-bodied, the flavour resembles tomatoes being more ripe.
Before: Sweet, a little sour and bitter. Bitterness on the back of the tongue lingers a little.
After: More neutral and sweet, but the bitterness remains.
|White- and red wine vinegar|
Before: both very sour/sharp. The acidity overpowers most flavours when taken pure.
After, white: Like wine gone off. Sweet n'sour, flavour of ferment. Not pleasant at all. Quite revealing since off-/poor tastes is not longer overpowered by the acidity.
After, red: Like white, but even less pleasant. Unpleasant aroma and flavour.
Blogposts on miraculin/miracle fruit
Selected scientific papers
Brouwer et al. (1968). Miraculin, the Sweetness-inducing Protein from Miracle Fruit. Nature 220, 373-374.
Theerasilp et al. (1989). Complete amino acid sequence and structure characterization of the taste-modifying protein, miraculin. J. Biol. Chem., 264, 6655-6659. (open access paper + "fellow 1988 article")
Paladino et al. (2008). Molecular modelling of miraculin: Structural analyses and functional hypotheses. Biochem. Biophys. Res. Comm., 367(1), 26-32.
*Appropriate references to Swiss-model protein structure
Kiefer F, Arnold K, Künzli M, Bordoli L, Schwede T (2009). The SWISS-MODEL Repository and associated resources. Nucleic Acids Res. 37, D387-D392.
Jürgen Kopp and Torsten Schwede (2004). The SWISS-MODEL Repository of annotated three-dimensional protein structure homology models. Nucleic Acids Res. 32, D230-D234.