It is only about the size of a grape and has a name that draws skepticism.
What is so miraculous about the Miracle Fruit?
If it is so miraculous, why haven’t I heard of it?
Despite its relative obscurity, more people are learning about the little fruit that manipulates your taste buds and makes your brain do a double take.
They are also learning about some of the very important health benefits that the bright red food brings.
The Miracle Fruit, sometimes called Magic Berry or Miracle Berry, was first discovered by French explorer Chevalier Des Marchais during a 1725 excursion to Ghana in West Africa.
When he arrived he witnessed local tribes eating one of these small fruits before their meal.
He soon discovered that eating just one of the berries completely changed his taste buds.
It made the tribe’s traditional dishes go from sour and bland to sweet and bursting with flavors.
The effect would last for about an hour.
Scientists discovered the secret lies in a unique comma shapedglycoprotein called “Miraculin” which is responsible for inhibiting the tongue’s perception of sour flavors.
Simply put, the glycoprotein attaches itself to your taste buds and prevents you from tasting anything sour for about an hour.
The fruit is eaten similarly to a lychee, you peel off the skin and eat the pulp
It is easy to be skeptical, but all it takes is one berry and a lemon to change your mind.
Even though your face will pucker at the expectation of biting into a lemon, you are quickly and pleasantly surprised at the sweet taste of lemonade.
It takes a few bites before your brain lets its guard down and says “ok, so maybe this lemon isn’t sour”.
The Miracle Fruit made its way to the United States in the early twentieth century thanks to USDA employee David Fairchild, for whom Fairchild Tropical Botanical Gardens is named, but remained in relative obscurity for decades.
In the 1960’s and 1970’s it saw a brief resurgence as scientists researched it as a possible sugar substitute.
Unfortunately, legislation and regulation (and some interference from “Big Sugar”) meant the little red fruit would fade back into obscurity and cult popularity.
It has been popular at tasting parties and as a parlor trick, but the cost was always too prohibitive for commercial use, coupled with the fact that it has a short shelf life and any application of heat destroys the active principle, preservation has been almost impossible.
The only method that works to date is freezing or freeze drying, which is why you see variations like dissolvable tablets available for sale.
PineIsland Nursery has been growing Miracle fruit for the last three decades and according to Vice President Erik Tietig, it has found a niche thanks to an unexpected side effect that benefits cancer patients. One of the biggest problems people battling cancer complain about is the fact that going through chemotherapy makes everything taste metallic.
This creates a vicious cycle where the person doesn’t want to eat because the food tastes bad, and if they do it, there is no guaranteeing they can keep it down.
This in turn depletes their already vulnerable system of valuable nutrients that can help keep their energy up to fight the disease.
Thanks to the Miracle Berry, one little fruit can make a eating bearable and make something healthy people take for granted, a good tasting meal, possible for people battling cancer.
For Tietig, customers battling cancer have been coming to his nursery for over a decade for the Miracle Fruit thanks a small line on his website touting the benefits.
“In the early days of our website, we put a picture of the fruit with a caption talking about its added benefits. Since then we have had a steady stream of customers. Unfortunately, a lot of people aren’t aware and even a lot oncologists don’t know about this benefit they can pass on to their patients.”
One of the major obstacles has always been the cost. “You generally see them for sale around $3 to $4 an individual berry, and when I was in California I saw them going for $7 each,” said Tietig, “we have figured out ways to grow them from cutting, which is essentially cloning the plant, as greatly decreases the time it takes for new plants to fruit.
Growing from a seed can take up anywhere from 3 to 5 years.”
This has reduced the price and made it more commercially available.
PineIsland also has an another advantage that has helped it reduce costs “South Dade’s subtropical climate is the perfect condition to grow the Miracle Berry.
Anywhere else in the United States they want to grow the plant, it has to be under certain conditions, here it flourishes naturally.”
The plant grows year round and is resistant to cold snaps as long as they aren’t prolonged.
As people learn more information about the Miracle Berry and some of the benefits, research should pick up.
In light of the recent fight against obesity, especially in children, its use as a low calorie sweetener could have tremendous benefits.
Hopefully legislation, regulation and competition does continue not get in the way of progress being made.