Taste Test: "Miracle Fruit"

Due to popular demand and the fact that
we love trying weird foods and candies,
The A.V. Club will
now regularly feature "Taste Tests." Feel free to suggest disgusting and/or
delicious new edibles for future installments: E-mail us at

Synsepalum dulcificum, a.k.a. magic berries or
miracle fruit

Back in May, The New York Times ran a story about an
entrepreneur who was organizing "flavor-tripping parties" around a little red
berry widely known as "miracle fruit," in part because of one of its
components, a protein called miraculin, and in part because of its effects on
the human palate. According to a university researcher who studied the berry,
miraculin "binds with the taste buds and acts as a sweetness inducer when it
comes in contact with acids."

In other words, it makes sour things taste sweet.

At the New York flavor-tripping parties, guests
paid $15 apiece to eat a single berry, then chow down on lemons, Tabasco sauce,
vinegar—anything mouth-puckering that would taste surprisingly different
if infused with a cup of sugar. The Times' description of these parties was so
ultra-awesome that it prompted a massive demand for miracle fruit, driving up
prices on outlets like eBay and overwhelming the few farms that produce them.
Naturally, we here at The A.V. Club didn't want to admit that we're all secretly
averse to fun, so we joined in on the frenzy, bought a small sealed pack of
magic berries online, and dove into our own table of face-crinkling foods to
see what the experience was like.

The result wasn't as overwhelming as the Times promised. Something about
phrases like "magic berry" and "tripping party" made us all expect to enjoy a
wild high, then pass out at the office and wake up groggy two days later, each
of us on a separate Chicago rooftop, wearing nothing but feather boas and
detached toilet seats. The actual experience was much less Hunter S. Thompson
and much more Mister Wizard: Apart from some minor glee over how good fresh
lemons and goat cheese tasted, and a certain air of scientific curiosity, our
flavor-tripping party was pretty much like any office party where people happen
to be wolfing down sauerkraut instead of sheet cake.

Taste: The magic berry itself has a very mild, minor
taste. It's a little tart and a little sweet, like a mix between a cherry and a
wild cranberry. It's firm like a cranberry, with a thin rind and a thinner
layer of pulp surrounding a central seed about the size and shape of a pine
nut. The instructions ordered us to each chew the rind and pulp off the seed,
holding it carefully in our mouths for a full minute and trying to entirely
coat our tongues with the juice. (This was not in any way made easier by Josh
Modell, in a rare moment of seeming obliviousness about any potential double
meanings, urging us all, "Keep it in your mouth and swish it around really good,"
then lamenting, "I don't think I sucked on mine enough.")

Most of us were looking for some kind of telltale
reaction—a tingling tongue, a brief dizziness, a spicy warmth in the
mouth, a sudden ability to taste color, a desire to break out the boas and
toilet seats—but there wasn't any whatsoever. No one felt any different.
And then we started eating lemons, and they tasted exactly like lemonade.

And here's the thing about "flavor tripping"—none
of us really experienced any radically new flavors. Various things just tasted like
they'd been coated with sugar. Lemons tasted like lemonade, Sour Patch Kids
tasted like gumdrops, white vinegar tasted like a particularly sweet balsamic.
The main thing was, we weren't necessarily sure going into each item whether it
would change—radishes, for instance, remained fairly familiar radishes to
most tasters—or how much. That at least, was kind of fun. So was pulling
out leftovers from some past Taste Tests, or things from our bagged lunches,
and seeing how or whether they changed. Among other things, tasters reported
that diet sodas tasted exactly like regular sodas, and that the flavored vodkas
we tasted recently were much milder, and could be sipped without inducing
college flashbacks.

Much less fun: the after-effects. The Times article neglected to
mention that while miraculin makes vinegar and Tabasco sweet, it doesn't make
either of them any easier on the lining of the throat or the stomach. By the
end of the day, miracle or no, all of us certainly felt like we'd been drinking
pickle-Tabasco-sauerkraut-radish-mustard-vodka cocktails.

Office reactions:

Magic berries:

— "Kinda sour. Also, texture-wise, it's like a bean until you bite into

— "No
real flavor, and nothing unusual about the texture. Didn't feel weird to me,
either. Generic, tart 'berry' taste, I guess."

— "This tastes pretty good,
actually, kind of like sour cherries. Kinda slimy after sucking on them for a
while. The seed keeps spitting out of my mouth... That's what she said! Ugh, I
hate myself."

"This doesn't really taste like any berry I've ever had before. I didn't think
it had worked at first, because there was no noticeable change. For some
reason, I thought my mouth would taste better or sweeter, but it didn't."

— "Generic berry taste, with
strong cherry overtones. They aren't bad."

— "After you suck on it for
a while, then bite down, you get a quick shiver of sourness. And that's about
it. I was too busy trying to figure out how it was affecting my taste buds."

— "A
small cherry with a large pit. A little sour but otherwise nondescript."

— "I think it would've been good to eat a few of
these berries to really coat
our mouths. Damn you, New York Times, for making them so difficult to find! And us,
for contributing to the scarcity!"


— "Surprisingly
sweet, like lemonade."

— "These are really good! I could eat these the
rest of the day."

— "Like
a really sour orange."

"Like eating something from an alternate universe where lemons could be
consumed as easily and pleasurably as oranges."

— "Still tasted sour, but
somehow not. Not exactly like lemonade, but surprising and delicious."

— "Delicious! I could easily
eat a whole lemon. I feel like this would be a really good parlor trick, if I
had the funds to spend $60 on berries every time I wanted to freak people out
at a party."

"Reminds me of eating a lemon Sour Patch Kid. Still sour, but not in the
face-screwed-up kinda way, in a candy-like way."

— "Delicious! Like those
sugar-covered candy wedges that look like lemons."

— "The
berries basically take the edge off strong flavors. Lemons don't taste like
cotton candy or anything—they're just less tart and more palatable to eat

— "I can tell it's sour, but the intensity is
surprisingly mild. I could probably suck on a few more slices without


— "They
still taste like radishes."

— "Yeah, it's just like a really mild version of a

— "I
don't eat radishes much on a regular basis, and these tasted as shitty as I
remember real radishes tasting."

— "No real perceptible
change... maybe some of the 'bite' that radishes normally have is gone. It just
tastes crunchy and bland."

— "Bland. Devoid of flavor."

— "They just taste like generic root. Like a
mouthful of taro, maybe."


— "Huh. Earthy."

— "The
bite mostly disappeared."

— "Pretty
yummy the first time. There was this really earthy sweetness giving way to a
mild heat. I went back for seconds and it didn't taste as good that time, more
like this gross horseradish mayonnaise I bought once."

— "Not
good-tasting, but I can actually eat it like it isn't the most disgusting thing
on the planet."

— "You can still taste the
flavor, but it's doesn't knock you on your ass. It isn't as powerful."

— "Very
interesting effect of quelling the heat of horseradish, leaving mostly grassy
flavors. A pleasant, surprising taste."

— "It tastes like dirt. A big handful of fresh

— "Hey,
that's really good! I'm gonna take it home and eat all of it."

— "It's kinda nice! Tastes like sweetish


"Slightly sweeter, but it could just be inferior kraut. Not a winner, but not

— "I like sauerkraut, and
I'm not really tasting a difference here."

— "Not
terrible. More like warm coleslaw than canned sauerkraut."

— "About
like normal. If anything, bitterer."


— "Sweet in the mouth, still burns in the

— "It's like balsamic
vinegar, which I love, so this is a winner for me. It still stings my sinuses
to gulp down a spoonful, though."

— "Exactly like balsamic vinegar."

— "Still tart, but much less
intense. When it reaches the part of your tongue the berry doesn't affect, it's
like a slap to the face, though."

— "I
didn't detect the harshness usually associated with vinegar until I swirled it
around and the vinegar hit the back of my mouth. Then it burned going down."

— "Tastes
great, still smells awful. It burns my nose."


— "Like shrimp cocktail sauce."

"Oh wow, this is good—OW! OW! MotherFUCKER!" [Later...] "That was probably
the weirdest, because it was SO SWEET at first, then oh, the pain. I'm a wimp
with spicy foods. But it was interesting how it really brought out a fruity
flavor. I'd forgotten that chilies are berries, and can be sweet."

— "It still burns, but not
nearly as bad as it normally would."

— "This is mostly blocked by
the berry, but what's so weird is the heat remains. The sensation is really
odd, like you're eating a flavorless liquid that sets your mouth on fire."

— "Still
pretty hot. I feel it more on my lips than on my tongue."

— "Tastes
exactly like mango salsa. Just a little hot, mostly sweet and fruity."

Sour Patch Kids:

— "Like regular gummi candy. I think Warheads
would have been interesting."

— "Gumdrops with just a hint
of sourness."

"All the sour is gone. It's just a sweet gummi candy, but with that salty Sour
Patch texture."

— "They don't really taste any different.
They just aren't sour."

"Without the sour, they're merely Patch Kids. They taste like regular ol'

— "It'd be an exaggeration
to say it tastes like a gumdrop, but it's very close."

— "Oho! Not so sour now, are

Plain yogurt:

— "That actually tasted worse than usual, I'm not
sure how."

— "I don't taste any
difference at all. And plain yogurt is just gross. Ergo, still gross."

"This is gross. It just made the yogurt taste like chalky goop. We probably
could have mixed the yogurt better, because I'm not sure how much of that was
the berry—plain yogurt is kind of nasty on its own."

— "Unpleasant.
Chalky and slightly sour."

— "If anything, this is worse than regular yogurt.
Just plain disgusting."

Goat cheese:

— "It's
like super-sweet cream cheese."

Delicious. I often buy a honey-flavored goat cheese to use in salads, and this
tastes almost exactly like that."

"This is fantastic! Tastes exactly like cheesecake. I'm already regretting how
much of it I'm eating."

"I really like this. I like goat cheese to begin with, but this is more like a
cheesecake crumble. It isn't sweet, but it tastes like a subtly flavored
cheesecake. Mmm, subtlety."

— "Very
creamy and a little buttery at first, but the aroma of goat's cheese comes
through as you breathe out the nose."

— "I
find goat cheese unpleasant, usually, but the magic berries make it tolerable."

— "Generally,
it tastes like a really cheesy cheesecake."

Hot Chinese mustard:

— "This
isn't just not-sour, it's actively sweet."

— "The coolest of the bunch,
I think, because you can feel the hot mustard burn, straight up into your
nostrils, but not taste it at all."

— "Whoa. It doesn't taste
like anything but stinging sinuses. This is the closest I came to tripping
during this flavor trip."

"It burns, but otherwise has no noticeable flavor."

— "Nothing
whatsoever. It all hits the sinuses, but there's nothing on the tongue at all.
It burns but has no flavor."

— "Wow. We really have discovered something that
tastes like burning."

— "The Chinese haven't made
a mustard the Africans can't defeat with berries. There is no mustard taste,
but you still have the heat. Take that, China!"


— "I couldn't handle the
jalapeno Pickle Sickle during the original taste test, but this took things
down from unbearable to slightly bearable. I just can't taste the sour part at
all. Still tastes like pickle, though."

— "Even the berries have
their limits, and they can't knock out this jalapeño-and-pickle-juice
abomination. When the Lord made the berries, how could He have known what we'd
do with pickling technology?"

— "The berries absorb most
of the impact. The popsicles are still fucking disgusting, but licking one
isn't like a roundhouse kick to the head. It's more like a foppish glove-slap."

— "The
Pickle Sickle defeats the berry. It just reduced the Pickle Sickle impact. I
didn't even realize I was eating a jalapeno one."

Where to get them: eBay if you're in a hurry
and have money to burn, via sites like miraclefruitman.com if you can wait for
the next crop. Various online retailers also sell imported miracle-fruit
tablets. Happy tripping.