Arts & Entertainment

Miracle Tang: Lemonade Sans Sugar

One Reporter’s Brief Odyssey Into Flavor-Tripping With Miracle Fruit

If you’re a food connoisseur looking for that next gastronomic frontier to cross, perhaps a small red berry may provide the edge you’re seeking.

Sounds somewhat too simple, right? A small red berry, synsepalum dulcificum, known to the layman as “miracle fruit,” has been making inroads into posh parties up in New York, attracting the converted and the curious as it turns all that is sour and bitter to pure, mind-boggling sweetness.

But everyone has to start from square one: what is this so-called miracle fruit?

The process behind the berry is that its red skin contains the glycoprotein, miraculin – after consuming the berry and letting the skin linger in the mouth for a minute or so, the chemical attaches itself to the surface of the tongue. Once the taste buds are lacquered in a Miraculin glaze, well, then the adventure begins.
According to miraclefruitexpress.com – one of your be-all, end-all shopping center for all that is affordable miracle fruit (with free shipping) – the berry came into Western knowledge around 1725 after a discovery in West Africa by Chevalier des Marchais. Another online enthusiast, Jacob Grier, reports that the berry’s origins are older, having been used in Africa as a dietary aid for centuries. Either way, taste-tripping has never been the same since.

There was some movement in the 1970s to bring miracle fruit into the U.S. market as a diet aid, like the Japanese who use it for diabetics and others who can’t consume sugars. But the movement stalled with the Food and Drug Administration, and the exotic fruit went into oblivion Stateside until some experimental party types came upon the magical fruit.

berrybox.jpgYou can find various reviews online about miracle fruit experimentation, even the New York Times has a recent feature. Apparently the berry has made hefty progress in Asian countries, and since its popular consumption there, the fruit has been heavily marketed from companies in Japan and Taiwan, where miraclefruitexpress.com purchases its shipments.

There is one hitch to procuring miracle fruit stateside. As you might imagine, it’s not easy to come by fresh at the market. Thank goodness then for entrepreneurs like William Goldfarb and his enterprise miraclefruitexpress.com, who started his business after he and some friends tried fresh miracle berries.
“This stuff is fun,” Goldfarb thought after his first time. “But it was very expensive, spoiled fast and was fragile. When I met with the distributor from Taiwan and sampled the tablets, I knew I had to get the word out,” says Goldfarb.

The miracle fruit enthusiast, or the curious culinary adventurer like this writer, can procure 10 hits of miraculin in tablet form at $19.99, with some better package deals as you purchase more tablets.
Sounds expensive? Well, at the time of press, miraclefruitexpress.com didn’t have any fresh berries available then, so for the real stuff, fresh ripened berries, Curtis Mozie of Fort Lauderdale, Fl. and his website www.miraclefruitman.com offers 30 berries at their peak for $3 per berry – with a minimum purchase of 30 berries with $30 shipping. Well, now you’re talking about 30 hits at $120. The tablet advantage becomes pretty clear.

You might ask, but the real stuff is more potent, right? No, it isn’t: the tablets, which come in a small medicine-like tin foil sheet of tablets identifiable only by some Japanese characters, consists of miracle fruit extract and some corn starch for stability. Each pink tablet then is packed with the concentrated potency of the fruit.

To press the point home, this writer took it upon himself to offer his own dear taste buds to take the sweet dip. (OK, this isn’t a trip to Haight-Ashbury of lore, but, hey, a trip’s a trip.)

A friend joined the experimentation as a witness to vouch for the journalist’s impartiality. Miracle fruit doesn’t seem like a loner’s choice for fun, and it’s so much more fun to share the wonder of taste-tripping with friends.
Miraclefruitexpress.com wastes no time with shipping either – after ordering the package on a Tuesday afternoon, there it was, a small brown box from Scottsdale, Ariz. sitting on the front porch on Wednesday.
That evening is when the experimentation commenced. Following some suggestions from the “party guide” the shipper included with the package, we laid out an assortment of food and beverages to sample: lemon wedges, soy sauce, horseradish, beer and liquor – sadly, all we could find in the house on a Wednesday night was some sweet vermouth.

Next, we move on to the consumption of the miracle fruit tablet. Again following the guide, we begin by placing the tablets on our tongues, coating them with their precious cargo of miraculin.

A minute or two later, as the guide puts it best, this is where “things get a little weird.”

First on the menu: the lemonade – I mean, lemon wedges – but the mistake is easily made.
Everything sour or bitter turns into tangy delectables – soy sauce went down as easily as, let’s say, a full-bodied merlot with an Eastern twist.

More impressive is the horseradish. The usually hot condiment loses its tongue-burning edge, and was, to our surprise, the most delicious miraculin-inspired entrée (so much so, we had seconds). Much like what you read in miracle fruit press coverage, the room is also full of “Oh! Ah! Wow!” from the experimenters.

As for the evening’s libations, the hint of blueberry in our beer becomes all the more prominent: Welch’s for the 21 and over crowd. Sadly, the sweet vermouth’s tang doesn’t budge much – as it’s already sweet, the taste change wasn’t discernible.

Goldfarb recommends experimenting with liquor and mixed drinks than with beer or wine.

Naturally, one should follow the advice of the people who know and sell the product: If it isn’t sour or bitter, don’t waste your time or the miraculin.

It takes one tablet for about an hour, give or take, of experimentation. Miraclefruitexpress.com suggests experimenting with different foods and liquids to get a feel for how they affect the longevity of the miraculin.828miraclefruit_1.jpg
With some tablets remaining, this writer has more food curiosities to settle, and for the unique experience, the price and the harmless fun were worth the hour-long trip.
Perhaps then you’ll consider a small pink tablet the next time you want something more than your average palate.
Of course, if you’re convinced this is something you’d like to try and keep enjoying – Goldfarb also sells the plants, which sounds like it might be too much of a good thing.

In the words of Mae West: sometimes too much of a good thing is wonderful. Mind the lemons, though.

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