A couple years ago, a good friend of mine (let’s call him Nate) came across an article in the New York Times (which he forwarded to oodles of friends) about miracle fruits, a small berry from West Africa that temporarily rewires your taste buds so that sour things taste sweet. The article was about people in New York having these bizarre taste parties, where you’d pop a berry into your mouth, swirl it around for a while and spit it out, and then eat lemons, drink Tabasco sauce, and any other odd things you could think of.
Ever since then, we’ve been dying to try it for ourselves. But of course the only place you could get these here in the U.S. was from some specialty food stores or some guy from Florida. But for a while Miracle Fruit Man was sold out (thanks in part to the New York Times coverage) and even in stock the berries will cost you around two bucks each (though you can get them in bulk, which brings the price down closer to a dollar). Recently, though, I discovered that one of our favorite retailers of wondrous things, ThinkGeek, sells Miracle Berry Fruit Tablets. At $14.99 for a 20-serving box, I figured it was worth a try.
When we realized that we could pay Nate a visit on his birthday, I placed an order for the tablets and told Nate that we’d be arriving with some accouterments to go along with the package he’d be receiving. He was suitably intrigued, particularly when we arrived on his doorstep with a grocery sack of lemons, limes, kiwis, grapefruit, strawberries, baby carrots, and a bag of salt and vinegar potato chips. We made him guess what was in the package before he opened it:
The box was light, nearly empty. My best guess was a t-shirt, maybe one with pictures of sliced fruit on it? But no, I opened away and out slid an avocado- green and red box, like the kind you get upscale chocolate in. But the box had a picture of a bunch of little red globules, looking more or less like the red-hots I remember from my youth. The label said, in large letters, …. something in Chinese.
But beneath it in English it said: Miracle Fruit Tablets.
Suddenly I realized what this meant.
The ten tablets come in a blister pack, dusty pink in color. Made of dehydrated miracle fruit juice, they taste a little fruity but nothing spectacular. We each took a tablet and swished it around on our tongues until fully dissolved, which took a few minutes. (The suggested serving size is half a tablet, or a full tablet for a more intense experience—we all went for intense.) Then, the tasting began. Here’s how Nate described it:
I reached for the plate of lemons and took a nice big slice, bit right in and sucked the pulp like I was a youth soccer player with his orange segment at halftime. It tasted like … very sweet lemonade. There was still a tang to it, I didn’t have a sense that the flavors were missing or masked, just that everything was sweeter.
So it went with all the items on the platter. Lime = limeade or the sweet lime water they give you in India when you’re dehydrated. Carrots = sweeter than the crazy-sweet variety I’d bought in the supermarket in Nairobi 10 years back. Strawberry and kiwi = fruit on a fruit tart. Salt-and-vinegar chips = I dunno, sweet potato chips?
We didn’t have the nerve to swill any vinegar directly, though we did try a bit of [basalmic vinegar] salad dressing, which of course tasted sweeter.
It was so much fun I had to go back to cut up more of everything. The effect lasted roughly 45 minutes (the instructions say it will last anywhere from half an hour to an hour), at which point we noticed that things were gradually becoming more sour. When you bite into a lemon and it tastes like lemon, it’s time to stop.
We invited Nate’s parents to try them as well. It was amusing when his mother started with a bite of lime and didn’t really react with any amazement. It turns out she’d never tasted a lime before sans miracle fruit and didn’t have any expectation of what it was supposed to be. But trying the other fruits had a more noticeable effect for her. Somebody made the comment that this is what we missed in the 1960s, dissolving mysterious tablets on our tongues and playing with our perceptions. Fortunately, though, this sort of tripping is fairly tame and doesn’t come with any side effects or unwanted flashbacks.
Maybe you can come up with some other sneaky uses for it. We dreamed up a few potential scenarios: what if you could mix some of this into a main course which wouldn’t really be affected by the taste, and then served some dessert with fresh strawberries? Your guests would wonder how you managed to make them so sweet! Or they might just make a great practical joke if you could find a way to get them into somebody’s food when they weren’t looking.
Either way, I highly recommend giving these a shot—it’s well worth the $15 for a pretty remarkable experience, and currently ThinkGeek has a buy three, get one free deal, so you could pick up a few for your friends.
Wired: A naturally-occurring fruit that messes with your sense of taste, in handy (and affordable) tablet form! So much fun, you’ll be glad you got that free fourth box.
Tired: Not much, unless you’re a stickler for authenticity and prefer the actual fresh berries.