Going on a Tasting Trip

When I heard about the taste-altering miracle fruit in an article in The New York Times, I thought it was a fantastic joke at first.

Yesterday, I finally tripped.

I’m normally not a big fan of drugs. I was in Amsterdam for one day when I had to make a decision: to shroom or not to shroom? I decided against it. Sure, it was legal, but why see the dour, bike-filled city under the influence when I could get high off the beautiful colors of the Van Gogh paintings?

So when I heard about the taste-altering miracle fruit in an article in The New York Times, I thought it was a fantastic joke at first. A dangerous one. A naturally occurring fruit that makes all sour foods taste sweet? Was this even legal?

Miracle berries, originally from West Africa, look like cranberries but contain a protein called miraculin. It’s unclear exactly how it works, but after binding to taste receptors, sour flavors morph into sweetness. Sour cream tastes like sweet cream. Fine wine tastes like Manischewitz. Butterscotch candy tastes like a heart attack. This lasts anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour.

There are uses to the fruit other than for curious college students looking to “flavor trip.” It’s one way for diabetics to taste sweetness without the corresponding insulin spike, for example. But a lot of press has centered around the flavor tripping parties being held in large cities where guests wanted to experience altered states of palate.

I’ve spent a few years in suspense, but I’d waited too long. This was one drug I actually had to try. I headed to the home for all things freakish to find out: the Internet. Freeze-dried berries cost $2.20 per berry, a steep fee for something as big as my pinky nail. Since I was helping organize a flavor-tripping party for the Harvard Culinary Society, I ordered 25. As I typed in my credit card number, I felt like I was being scammed. This was still too strange of a concept to wrap my mind around—would this even work?

They came in a small white box, still cold to the touch. I stored them in a Quincy freezer and hoped that I hadn’t left them in the mailroom too long.

Then the time of reckoning came. I ran to pick up the berries, still skeptical that the entire thing could be pulled off. Guests began arriving and milled around the tables set up with lemons, limes, grapefruit, goat cheese, apples, salt and vinegar chips, hot sauce, white vinegar, balsamic vinegar, and mustard.

It was perhaps one of the weirdest party spreads I had ever seen.

I instructed everyone to take a plate of food to do a pretasting. Then another organizer passed out a single, frozen berry to each guest. We popped them into our mouths together on cue, chewing the fruit and keeping it there for two minutes.

The fruit itself didn’t taste like much—a bit of tang, slightly sweet.

I had a sudden moment of fear. What if I’d left the berries in the mailroom for too long? What if I’d ordered them from a scam website? I’d never actually tried this before myself.

But then I took a bite of a lemon. Then a lime. They tasted positively...sweet. Like candy.

Euphoria overtook me. I began shoveling everything within sight into my mouth. Judging from other people’s reactions, they felt the same way.

My tongue had become a test tube for a chemistry experiment. The salt and vinegar chips had sweetened and lost their puckery bite. The most dramatic changes were the vinegars—the balsamic was as cloyingly sweet as syrup, and the white vinegar was a confusing combination of saccharine flavor and acidic burn, with the unmistakable smell thrown in. (All that acid still has an effect, even if you can’t taste it.) Goat cheese tasted like cheesecake.

I spooned Tabasco into my mouth. A long, sweet peppery sizzle.

But for pure tastiness, the lemons, limes, and grapefruits proved the most popular. Within a few minutes, the entire platter of citrus had disappeared as people happily sucked the juicy lemon wedges and found that grapefruit didn’t taste like diet food after all. After the food had been eaten and cleared away, relief washed over me. It had worked.

So when life gives you lemons, pop a miracle fruit. It’ll taste like lemonade.