The miracle fruit is a small, bright red berry only 2-3 cm long. So how did it get such a big name? It doesn’t have a spectacular taste itself. It has a mildly sweet and tangy taste that has been likened to a cranberry. But it isn’t the taste of the fruit that warrants its name. Instead, it’s the effects the fruit has on one’s taste buds afterwards.
After eating a miracle fruit, if you eat anything acidic, it will taste incredibly sweet. This happens because of a protein called miraculin. This protein binds very strongly to sweet receptors on our tongues, however it does not activate the receptors at neutral pH. When acid is introduced, the miraculin changes shape. It then turns on the sweet receptors which creates an incredibly sweet sensation. Once the acidic food is swallowed, the miraculin returns to the inactive shape, but does remain bound to the sweet receptors for up to an hour.
Theoretically, miraculin could be used as an artificial sweetener. This idea was introduced almost 50 years ago. Despite initial success, drama and suspected foul play by the sugar industry prevented this from happening. The FDA, although previously supportive of the endeavor, declared that miraculin was an additive which meant that the berries could not be sold as a sugar substitute without further testing.
A new idea to integrate the powder into desserts has arisen, but there are problems with this too. Refrigerating and heating the miraculin cause the protein to activate, so its ability to modify one’s ability to taste would be gone by the time the food was consumed. Scientists are trying to create a heat stable form of miraculin that can be cooked with.
There has been a recent push for miraculin to take the place of sugar. Some benefits are obvious, like getting the taste of sweetness without the sugar. Sugar-free desserts could still be sugar free but without tasting sugar-free. With obesity being such a concern, this is a legitimate reason to pursue miraculin. In addition to this benefit, it could be a great discovery for diabetics since it provides sweetness with no sugar. It also can be useful for chemotherapy patients whose tastes are sometimes altered during treatment making it difficult to eat at all.
In general, some restaurants serve miracle fruits and they are at some parties. These are usually high end restaurants or parties with the sole purpose of “flavor-tripping.” Miraculin is native to West Africa, and is currently being produced and sold in Japan. It is possible to by in the US, but it is not as readily available. You can purchase your own Miracle Fruit plant from PlantOGram. It can be grown in your backyard or in a container on your patio.
In the future, if anyone were to procure enough funding, they would likely be able to convince the FDA to overturn their 1970s ruling as there is nothing dangerous about miraculin. Rather than concerns about the fruit itself, the drawback at the current time is funding.