Science

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Synsepalum dulcificum, aka "miracle
fruit"

Taste-Altering “Miracle Fruit” Is Party Favorite

March 31, 2009 07:29 AM
by Sarah Amandolare
Eating Synsepalum dulcificum, known more commonly as the “miracle fruit,” changes taste sensations for up to an hour or more. As well as having potential medical uses, the berry has sparked underground flavor-tripping parties.

Sour Foods Become Sweet with Miracle Fruit

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The "miracle fruit," scientific name Synsepalum dulcificum, looks like a deformed cranberry and has a bland taste. After the tongue touches the fruit's pulp, though, for about 15-20 minutes, foods seem much sweeter than normal.

As CNN put it, "Lemons lose their zing and taste like candy. Oranges become sickeningly sweet. Hot sauce that usually burns the tongue tastes like honey barbecue sauce that scorches as it trickles down the throat."

The phenomenon has given way to parties celebrating the fruit. But the fruit may have a more utilitarian use: helping cancer patients find their treatments more palatable.

The miracle fruit may help revive cancer patients' taste buds weakened by chemotherapy, says oncologist Dr. Mike Cusnir, who is leading a project researching the fruit. "What happens in patients is the food tastes so metallic and bland, it becomes repulsive," he told CNN. "Most of the patients undergoing chemotherapy have weight loss. They cut further into their diet and then this furthers the weight loss. It causes malnutrition, decreased function of the body and electrolyte imbalance."

Fort Lauderdale, Fla. resident Carmen Duporte, who drinks aloe vera juice to aid her digestive system, also finds that the miracle fruit helps make the medicine go down. "If I don't take the miracle fruit, I'd be having that taste for a long time. When I drink it with the fruit, there's no taste in my mouth." Researchers are also looking into miracle fruit as a sugar substitute for diabetics.

Background: The "miracle fruit"

The New York Times discussed the miracle fruit in a May 2008 article, calling it a food that “rewires the way the palate perceives sour flavors for an hour or so, rendering lemons as sweet as candy.”

So-called flavor-tripping parties have been held in New York, inviting guests to taste various foods such as tequila and goat cheese under the influence of the expensive, highly perishable berry.

Bartenders have been experimenting with miracle fruit cocktails, and diabetics have become interested in the fruit’s sugarless sweetening abilities.

According to the Wall Street Journal, it is legal to grow and sell miracle fruit in the United States, however the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not allow it to be used as an additive in foods.

After being found by French explorer Des Marchais in West Africa in 1725, miracle fruit got “lost in the shuffle of colonialism,” according to Gothamist. Although it was later tried by The U.S. Army and “several pharmaceutical giants,” the miracle fruit was rejected by the FDA in 1974, said the blog.

Reference: Growing and purchasing miracle fruit

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