The Science

Do you ever bite into a lemon whole? Probably not. Well, would you eat them more if they had the same taste as a sugary lemonade? Me too! An exciting trend over the past few years has seen people “flavor tripping” their food by something known as miracle fruit. This interesting fruit has been used at events and parties to display its truly unique ability. After tasting the fruit, you can taste foods that are normally salty, sweet, and/or sour and their flavor is completely different. It’s like magic!

Synsepalum dulcifium is the official name of the so-called “miracle berry”. This fruit has the ability to transform the flavor of sour and bitter foods into something more akin to candy. Due to this interesting ability, a lot of buzz has been generated around miracle berry both in popular culture and in the culinary world. Keiko Abe from the Unversity of Tokyo has led a group of researchers from France and Japan in order to discover the secret of this sweetening fruit.

These berries appear to give the perception of an uncanny, sweet taste via a protein housed within the miracle berry plant. This protein is known as miraculin and has been the subject of studies trying to determine the effect behind this mysterious fruit. It’s been known within the scientific community for some time that this protein has that peculiar capability, but Abe and his team were the first to discuss the mechanisms through which this protein impacts taste receptors in order to cause the incredible changes in flavor perception. In fact, it’s even been claimed that the protein can make the bitter Guinness lager taste like a milkshake.

Along with his team of scientists, Abe was able to determine the impact of the special protein on human taste receptors by using it at varying pH levels on cultured cells. These cells had been treated with molecules that had fluorescent properties to make it easier to detect activation. When the cells glowed, the team knew that there was some sort of action going on. Interestingly, the team discovered through the complex experiment that the protein within the miracle berry didn’t actually offer any activation of taste receptors responsible for sweet flavors at normal pH levels. Instead, it was found that the protein has more of an inhibitory impact. Interestingly, when the pH levels were lowered (making them slightly acidic), these sweet receptors were indeed activated. This made foods that were slightly acidic, like limes and lemons, taste sweeter.

In an interview with Discovery.com, Keiko Abe said that the level of sweetness obtained through this protein when at an acidic pH is one of the strongest sweeteners that’s known in the scientific world. He also noted that this information might be used for industrial purposes in order to make sweeteners that don’t have any calories. Since people love consuming sugar in everything from their water to their coffee, this would seem like good news for the food industry.