Miracle Fruit’s Flavor Tripping Powers Explained

If you’re a foodie (a term one might say arguably applies to everyone who requires food for sustenance) you may have heard the term “miracle fruit.”

The berry in question has been periodically making waves due to its seemingly magical effect on the taste buds. After you consume one of the relatively benign looking berries, your taste receptors go kind of haywire for about an hour. The main effect, that delights adherents of the miracle fruit- is the temporary transformation of bitter, sour or other strongly-tasting foods into sweet ones. Lemons, pickles, beer- all are transmuted to entirely different flavors thanks to the miracle fruit.

Amusingly, the fruit has spawned “flavor tripping” parties during which attendees eat miracle fruit and then sample strongly-tasting foods like Guinness, Tabasco and straight-up vinegar. One party-goer told Discovery:

“To me it was very exhilarating. It really is a very joyous experience,” said writer Adam Gollner of trying the fruit. Gollner is author of The Fruit Hunters, which includes a chapter on the miracle fruit. “It’s almost like this thing that you can’t understand that is happening to you. That sense of incomprehensibility is a great feeling.”

Duuuuuude. Discovery explains how miracle fruit manages to cause such an effect- and notes the potential implications for diabetics and others who like sweet foods but can’t eat them for health reasons:

The key ingredient in the fruit, a protein known as miraculin, binds strongly to the sweet taste receptors on our tongues… When acid is introduced, the miraculin protein changes shape in such a way that it turns on the sweet receptors it is bound to, creating a sensation of ultra-sweet without affecting the other flavors in the food…. After the acidic food is swallowed, miraculin returns to the inactive shape, but it remains bound to the sweet receptor for up to an hour, ready to receive a new acid trigger. The strong binding explains the molecule’s lasting effect.

Want to know where to buy miracle fruit? It’s not likely to be available at your local market, and of course, you’ll have to pony up quite a bit- about $2.25 per berry plus shipping, or $50 for 20 miracle fruit berries.