Consummate dilettantism!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Synsepalum dulcificum, the Miracle Fruit

(I am hereby introducing a new category of posts about my experiences with various substances, this being one of them. I will review the substance in question, rate it in several categories, and provide links to websites from which it may be purchased.)

First discovered by Europeans in West Africa in 1725, Synsepalum dulcificum was witnessed being used by natives whose meals were often intolerably bitter. Miracle fruit is not a drug, but it is quite expensive; 10 concentrated tablets will set you back $20. It's completely legal, and in fact was once approved in the U.S. as a sugar substitute (until being nixed under curious and perhaps conspiratorial circumstances). But what does this marvelous fruit actually do? It's very interesting, really; it messes with your taste receptors. Its active component is a molecule called miraculin, which is a glycoprotein with a few carbohydrate chains -- it binds to the taste buds and makes acids taste sweet. It doesn't affect the central nervous system at all, and it's completely legal.

And I'm not making this up.

Of course, you're looking for an experience; what is this stuff like? Does it work? I coated my tongue with a tablet by sucking on it for about a minute; it tasted a little like an apricot. I went downstairs and began trying the foods I had assembled for this purpose. At this point I was highly skeptical; I felt no different and my tongue felt no different. But I very hesitantly (as though not wanting to find that I'd wasted my money) tilted the container of grapefruit juice (the campus juice is normally sour) to my mouth and took a sip. The grapefruit juice tasted like fruit punch! There was not a hint of sourness; I could easily have consumed an entire lemon on this stuff. Unfortunately, my collection of foods was inadequate for my exquisitely tuned palette; neither the chocolate nor the pretzels nor the sweet candies tasted remotely different. (The sour candies were very sweet, obviously, but unenjoyable.) Lemonade was sweet, and alcohol tasted no different. The experience lasted for a few hours.

My verdict? This certainly has potential, but it's not worth the price unless you have a niche usage -- perhaps you really dislike like sour foods, perhaps you know a chef who can supply you with foods prepared specifically for this purpose, or perhaps you're dieting. It doesn't affect the flavor of non-acidic foods, so its utility is really quite limited. To truly enjoy it, you should really be at a tasting party, which would of course obviate the need for purchasing it in bulk for oneself. But it goes without saying that miraculin is extremely safe; it does not affect the chemistry of the brain, and it doesn't affect your food, either. It merely temporarily rewires the palette. Remember, however, that there is a reason acid tastes sour; one is not meant to consume that much. Downing a bottle of concentrated lemon juice might sound fun, but it'll give you ulcers.

Anyway, get it here.

Pleasure: 2/5
Distortion: 2/5
Safety: 5/5
Price: 2/5
Usefulness: 3/5


  1. Potential activity for us to do together? (minus downing of the gallon of lemon juice).

  2. Yes! This fruit is an excellent thing to try in a group.