Tasteless - but oh, what a taste!

If offered a taste of a fruit that was supposed to be essentially tasteless, most of us would show little interest. But what if you found that even though the fruit had little taste of its own, it had such an effect on your taste buds that anything acid or sour you sample afterwards becomes sweet? Such a phenomenon seems impossible, but the small berries of Synsepalum dulcificum, also known as the Miracle Fruit or Miracle Berry, have just such a reputation. This reputation is well-deserved, and I can state this with confidence because I have experienced the effect of the Miracle Fruit for myself.

Over 25 years ago, I met a local fruit farmer who had a small nursery. He invited me to try a small red berry, telling me that this unassuming fruit was called "miracle fruit". The berry came from a small shrub, also rather unassuming in appearance. I decided to humor the fellow and tried the little berry. I found that this fruit has very little pulp; the majority of the berry size is occupied by the large seed inside. The pulp was a translucent whitish color and it really had just about no taste at all. It wasn't sweet, nor sour, nor bitter. It wasn't anything! After I had sampled the "miracle fruit", my farmer friend invited me to try a piece of really sour lemon. Again, I decided to humor him, and took the bait.

Talk about aftertaste!

I was sure my friend had made a mistake. Sure, he had intended to give me a sour lemon, but instead he had given me a piece of very sweet orange! No doubt about it; he must have slipped up. Then I remembered that I had tasted the sour lemon before I partook of the "miracle fruit", and it really was extra sour! Now how could that same sour lemon be suddenly very sweet? That is the "miracle" of the Miracle Fruit.

Well, after that little experience, I had to have a Miracle Fruit plant for myself. Over the years, I enjoyed the opportunity to surprise a few folks who came visiting, offering them a piece of sour fruit, then handing them the little red berry so they could swish the scanty pulp around in their mouths. I had fun seeing their reaction to the sour fruit after the Miracle Fruit had done the job for which it is so well known.

Miracle Fruit bush

Synsepalum dulcificum is a small, slow-growing shrubby plant that thrives in an acid soil medium. This plant will not survive in alkaline conditions, so if you have the tropical climate suitable for growing your specimen outdoors, you must be sure that your soil will sustain it properly. Miracle Fruit plants also prefer partial shade. Because it is a small grower, Synsepalum dulcificum can be grown indoors or in a greenhouse, so long as you provide the humidity and warm temperatures it craves. A slow-releasing fertilizer with ample micronutrients will help you keep your Miracle Fruit plant in good health. The shrub shown in the picture at left is 20+ years old, and the fellow standing next to it is Rodrigo Fernandez, Costa Rica's main Miracle Fruit grower.

Sadly, I lost my Miracle Fruit bush a few years ago. Back when I first obtained my plant, hardly anyone had heard of this fruit, and there was no internet. Now, a search for "Miracle Fruit" turns up many sites hawking plants, seeds, and tablets purporting to provide the same effect as the fresh fruit. I've never tried any of the tablets, but I do know that the real fruit truly does live up to the name "miracle fruit". The active principle changes the way your taste buds perceive sour or acid foods, but does not change the actual acidity of those foods. So keep this in mind if you find that you want to eat a lot of sour lemons while under the influence of the Miracle Fruit. Acid is still "acid", even if it doesn't taste that way to you!

The active ingredient in the Miracle Fruit berry is a large glycoprotein called miraculin. Attempts have been made to commercialize this substance, but it is not really a sweetener per se, but rather a taste perception-altering substance. And, since it works only on perception of sour or acid tastes, it won't make an unsweetened bowl of oatmeal sweet unless some acid substance has been added to it (like vitamin C, ascorbic acid, for example).

How to get one for yourself

Patience is called for when trying to obtain a Miracle Fruit plant. They are in high demand due to recent publicity, and since they are slow-growing plants, any that are of size sell out quickly. Also, you may find that vendors want an arm and half a leg for a small plant! Hopefully, as the hype dies down and availability goes up, the prices may also come down. Here are some sources for Miracle Fruit from PlantFiles. Also check Miracle Fruit Miami.

Photo credit: Public Domain image from Wikimedia Commons
Courtesy of Costa Rica Photos