Back in February of last year, the whole internet was abuzz with talk of the Miracle fruit, a West African berry whose active ingredient, Miraculin (yes, really) causes the user to interpret sour tastes as sweet. There were underground Miraculin parties where large groups of foodies would chew up a bunch of berries and for the next thirty minutes or so, lemons and grapefruit would be sweet as the morning sun, and chocolate stout beer would taste like Yoo-hoo.
Much later (like, two weeks ago), we were invited to a Miraculin party hosted by our friend Ben. He reasoned, why buy the berry when you can get the extract in powder form from England ? (You can’t buy it in America because the FDA is fruity like that, but there’s no prohibition against consuming it.) So it showed up in a vial, and after spreading it out on a piece of paper, one guest aptly likened it to “terracotta cocaine” (it’s reddish in color). We had all the citrus fruit you’d want and more, plus pickled cucumbers and lemons, sour candy, Greek yogurt, and various beers, wines and liquors.
The correct application of Miraculin involves dumping the powder onto one’s tongue, letting it sit around for two or three minutes (much saliva will leak during this period, so have paper towels handy), spitting or swallowing what doesn’t get absorbed (Miraculin does not, itself, taste sweet), and then cutting up limes. It takes a few minutes for the Miraculin to reach full strength, but when it does, that lime will taste like no lime has ever tasted to you before: sweet.
Sure, a slight bit of tang remains, but some of that is from the bitter, which Miraculin does not block and can sometimes be difficult to distinguish from sour under normal circumstances. But under the influence of Miraculin, limes tastes like apples, if apples had the texture of oranges and sort of tasted like lime. The sensation of biting into something that has tasted like it’s supposed to taste for your entire lifetime and suddenly tastes completely different is unsettling to say the least, but the quest to experience new gustatory sensations is an all-consuming one.
The biggest winners of the night were the chocolate stout beer (it really does taste like Yoo-hoo) and the Greek yogurt. We sampled the yogurt — FAGE’s Total 5% if you’re interested — at the beginning of the experience and at regular intervals until it faded completely, around ninety minutes in. The first time, it was like heavy whipping cream, and we had visions of starting an incredibly successful diet dairy company (except for that pesky FDA legalese stuff). The second time, we could swear it was sour cream, because sour cream is secretly pretty sweet (in the literal sense. In the colloquial sense, it’s no secret). Finally, it tasted like yogurt again.
All of this gave us food for thought: if we ever did it again (or indeed, if you ever do it at all), what kind of restaurants would be good to try? Obviously, we’d have to get some of that new-fangled tangy frozen yogurt the likes of which is sold at Pinkberry and Red Mango or any local third-wave frozen yogurt shop (Oko Frozen Yogurt in Brooklyn, Berry Chill in Chicago, or Red Kiwi in Miami, for example). No toppings necessary!
On the savory side, we were thinking about fish and chips, what with the vinegar and all, but if you want a total mindjob, consider Ethiopian food. Ethiopian cuisine’s main starch is the unavoidable and often distastefully sour spongy pancake called injera. Can you imagine turning doro tibs wrapped in a injera pouch into a dessert item? Whoa.
As far as chemically-induced sensory-altering experiences go, this one is cheap, temporary and proven to be harmless (not to mention legal). Throw a Miraculin party; you’ll be the hero of your foodie circle, and you’ll learn a thing or two about taste.
MiracleUK International Orders [Official Site]
[Photo: at the Miracle Fruit Cafe in Tokyo, Japan (of course) via TheseEyesOfMine/flickr]