Miracle berry: life of the (mouth) party

When I first heard about the “miracle berry” I immediately became apprehensive of its miracle claim. Despite having a vague term in its name, the sensation one experiences from consuming this berry is marked by wonder. Scientifically known as Synsepalum dulcificum, the miracle berry changes your perception of taste through proteins that bind to the tongue, making you perceive that something sour-tasting is really a substance of heavenly sweetness. Consumers have reported biting into a lip-puckering lemon and experiencing a citrusy sweetness that could only be worthy of the gods. Others have reported low-grade dark beer transforming into velvety nectar, rightfully prompting a Google search of a company merge between Häagen-Dazs and Guinness.

Surprisingly, the fruit does not contain any psychedelic properties, nor does it have any known long-term harms, but it has not had a successful market history. The American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) contentiously labelled it a food additive in the ’70s and claimed years of rigorous testing would be required before it could be approved for the market. However, it is available for purchase online and is known to be the guest of honour at “tasting parties”.

In the book The Fruit Hunters, Adam Gollner chronicles his quest to understand the West’s selective interest in the world’s most exotic fruits. He explains that many who have ingested the miracle berry perceive the taste of sweetness to be so divine that it surpasses any sweetness produced by sugar and artificial sweeteners. You can imagine this proclamation caused panic in the two multi–billion-dollar industries. The FDA halted the isolated protein “miraculin” from entering market and claimed further testing was required, despite the evidence for general recognition of safety presented by Bob Harvey’s Miralin Corporation. Harvey says FDA documents he obtained through a freedom-of-information request were heavily blacked out.

Given that the berry’s effects do not change the subsequently ingested food’s properties, but only change the consumer’s perception of taste, the benefit of eating the miracle berry is strictly flavour enhancement and the side effects of eating acidic foods still apply. I began to really wonder which industry felt threatened by such a fruit, given the limited reach of its abilities. Miralin had investigated the potential of miraculin to compete with sugar and existing sugar substitutes.

Rick Goodman, co-owner of the sweet shop Oh Sugar, located on the west end of Johnson Street in Victoria, describes his company’s candies as “weird and wonderful”—he is a modern-day Willy Wonka—and he and his wife are always on the lookout for novelty items to titillate the taste buds. He revealed that he had experienced the effects of the miracle berry at a food show he attended in Chicago. He said it did exactly what others have reported, but he was surprised and disappointed when its effects ruined the remainder of his day at the exhibition.

Importing goods from 45 countries, Goodman says he considered carrying the berry but its high cost and short shelf-life deterred him. He takes pride in the reputation of his products containing fresh ingredients and, because he would only be able to import a freeze-dried form of the miracle berry, he opted not to experiment with it.

When asked if the candy industry would be threatened by the miracle berry, Goodman firmly replied, “No.” Goodman says the miracle berry’s effects stay with you for too long. He feels that if customers are looking to eat something sweet, they will buy something sweet—they won’t buy something sour with the intention of consuming it with the berry. Humans are “creatures of habit,” he says, and are looking for “instant gratification.” Goodman says once is enough to experience the miracle berry mouth party.

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