Weird and wonderful

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 December, 2011, 12:00am


My first experience with miracle fruit was underwhelming. A friend had given me several of the small, red berries, plucked from a bush at his parents' house. The fruit is supposed to make everything taste much sweeter. I ate one of the berries then tried slices of cantaloupe, honeydew and watermelon, which did taste sweet, but my sceptical mind (and palate) could not help but wonder if they were just particularly ripe. So I decided to do a controlled test. I sampled a lime, orange and tomato, ate a miracle fruit (spitting out the tiny, bitter seed), then tasted the lime, orange and tomato again.

I was impressed: the lime, orange and tomato were much sweeter than before. The lime was the most pleasant; because the other two fruits were sweet on their own, the miracle fruit made them taste almost cloying.

Miracle fruit, or Synsepalum dulcificum, contains miraculin, which changes the tongue's perception of acidic ingredients, making them taste sweet. If CSI:NY is anything to go by, it also makes poison taste sweet (in one episode, a woman is murdered at a miracle fruit tasting party; she drinks sodium hydroxide, and cannot tell that it is a caustic poison because of her taste buds' altered perceptions).

Miracle fruit is not something I consume often, because I enjoy the contrasts in flavour of different ingredients - and I'd never know if someone were trying to poison me. Fortunately, the effect on the tongue lasts only for about an hour.

Studies are being carried out to test whether miracle fruit can restore the appetite of cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. Those being treated get a metallic taste in their mouths from the chemicals used, which makes most food unpalatable.