This weekend I had the opportunity to try what I later learned was usually an expensive taste teaser, used mostly in an experimental capacity by chefs and New York foodies. It is called Miracle Fruit, for lack of a better name, and it certainly is an experience. I attended a tasting party hosted by one of Nate’s fellow graduate students, who had obtained the fruit when attending a Psychology Conference featuring a lecture on taste. At the conference, they handed out miracle fruit pills and lemon wedges, inviting their attendees to take a deeper look at the behavior of their taste buds. I received this same pill, and definitely had my doubts that one little pill could so drastically alter my perceptions of taste, especially as quickly as in the next ten minutes.
However, despite my skepticism, I allowed the pill to roll around on my tongue while I observed the interesting array of tasting bites designed to test the fruit’s effects to maximum capacity. Among the options were the most curious of foods that I would never have ingested on a daily basis, including, Vegemite (salted yeast extract), Horseradish cheddar, lemons, limes, grapefruit, goat cheese, various beers, green mango, gefiltefish, pickles, and other strange items. I simply began by picking up the first thing in front of me, a slice of grapefruit. I began rather hesitantly, nibbling to test the effectiveness of this so called miracle fruit pill, and eventually ate the entire slice, followed by another and another. The grapefruit tasted as if I had soaked it in sugar, deliciously sweet without an unpleasant bitter aftertaste or any sort of artificial tang. I subsequently downed a few lemon and lime wedges, feeling as if I were sipping at a lemon drop cocktail or limeade. I like one of those people who make others pucker just by looking at them when they pop whole lemon slices in their mouths, oblivious to the sourness. And I was, for all intents and purposes, completely unable to taste the sour flavor that is usually so all consuming in these acidic fruits. But while the miracle fruit removed the sour flavor, it was unable to banish the acidity inherent in the fruit itself. I had the vague sensation that the sour taste was almost a warning to caution eaters about the potentially damaging acidity. Without the sour taste, I was wholly unconcerned about the acidic burn, while simultaneously aware this could be bad for me. I could have happily sat and ate lemons and grapefruit slices all day, but I knew this would have eroded the enamel on my teeth, burned my mouth, and caused my stomach great distress. This experience almost made me appreciate the natural flavor of the lemon more, naturally protecting me from some harmful effects. For the next 45 minutes, I ate my way through the various off-putting foods, finding that pickles tasted like floppy cucumbers, and goat cheese did taste like cheesecake. And although the miraculin did change the taste of beer quite dramatically, I didn’t like the syrupy sweetness any more than the bitter hopiness. Vegemite, which I tasted for the first and last time, was not affected by the miracle fruit at all, and I maintained silently that if I ever had the opportunity to visit Australia, I would not eat any dishes containing this popular spread.
And when the sensation gradually began to fade, I started tasting the sour flavors at the edges of my mouth, and preferentially on one side of my tongue. I realized that I this corresponded with the side I usually get all my cavities, and it seems I chew my food on one side all the time, a reminder to mix it up a bit next time I eat. By the end of the night I found myself wishing I could taste a grapefruit that wonderfully delicious again, without slathering sugar all over it. This miracle fruit pill, which was briefly explored as a sugar substitute for diabetics, could also be a wonderful weight loss supplement, but every miracle has it’s darker side. Despite the impracticality of popping a pill every time you’d like to eat a grapefruit for dessert, the sour flavor has its uses, and without it, we may have much less tooth enamel to enjoy. Not only that, but unlike sugar itself, the miracle fruit is choosy about what it makes very sweet, which is only sour or slightly bitter foods. Moreover, once ingesting this miracle pill, we found ourselves mourning for the original taste of some things, such as beer and pickles, observing that the sour and bitter flavors are actually what makes the those things taste so good. The same with goat cheese, the sourness is very pleasant in fact (if you are a goat cheese lover as I am) and reducing the flavor to a mild sweetness actually makes it, well, boring. If I wanted to eat cheesecake then I would, but when I want goat cheese, I eat it for its inherent flavors, sourness and all. The moral of this story is, I think, that this is definitely something to try, but I wouldn’t want this pill for normal food consumption. I like my palate the way it is, and altering its perception of sour foods affords only a temporary amusement rather than a necessity.
To read more about Miracle Fruit tasting parties, see this article: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/28/dining/28flavor.html