It’s a miracle(berry)!

There’s a molecule called miraculin and as the name suggests, it’s quite miraculous. The molecule is a glycoprotein, meaning it has both amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) and oligosaccharides (sugars). It’s extracted from the fruit of the Synsepalum dulcificum plant, which is native to West Africa.

Even though the molecule is part-sugar, it does not taste sweet. But it does something funky with your taste buds: if you eat a miracle berry and thus expose your tongue to miraculin, the molecule binds to the sweetness receptors. If you then eat something sour, it will taste sweet instead.

The exact mechanism is still unknown, but the molecule changes your taste perception by ensuring sweetness receptors are activated by acids. For about an hour, sour-tasting foods are weirdly sweet.

Now you can buy a “strip” of miracle berry pills, which comes with a ticket for a “flavor trip” and looks a little bit like drugs.

A ticket for "Flavour Tripping"
One trip to flavor town, please (adapted from here because I forgot to take a picture.)

Putting the miracle to the test

Guess what we did? Of course, we put it to the test!

Sour foods: balsamic vinegar, sour cream, strawberries, orange slices, lemon slices, lime slices, tomato slices, granny smith apples, chili pepper and cream cheese.
On the menu: everything sour

As promised, everything sour tasted sweet! Here’s an overview of what we tried:

  • Balsamic vinegar already has some sweetness to it, but with miraculin there was nothing sour to taste. Even though my mouth was still reacting to the acid, I could not taste it! On another occasion, I had also tasted white vinegar, which really burned my tongue even though it didn’t taste sour.
  • The citrus fruits all tasted like a very sweet orange! Almost unbearably sweet, to be honest. Lemon juice (the kind that comes in a bottle) tasted like a lemon candy: a little sour but with enough sweetness to easily take a shot.
  • The Granny Smith apple slices tasted like a non-Granny-Smith apple, as you might expect.
  • Strawberries tasted like you’ve put some extra sugar on them, which I can tell you is quite delicious. Even more delicious: a strawberry with some cream cheese. Instant strawberry cheese cake! And a strawberry with sour cream that tastes just like whipped cream? Yum!
Strawberry and a dollop of cream cheese
100x better than what you can buy at the cheesecake factory.
  • The tomato wasn’t really that special.
  • A kiwi tasted like a golden kiwi, which already tastes softer and sweeter than a green kiwi. Makes total sense.
  • Bitter flavors are also changed. For example, tonic water tastes pretty much like sprite. And grapefruit tastes sweet, though you can still “feel” the bitterness.
  • Finally, spicy things change taste too. A nibble from a chilli pepper made my mouth burn but without tasting the burn. Weird.

It was a very interesting experience, or flavor trip if you will. But as a fan of sour – I always eat the slice of lime or lemon in my drink – I prefer the world being a little less sweet.

Because you made it to the end, here’s a bonus: a stupid picture of me eating a very sweet-tasting lemon!

Lemon-peel-smile
Yum