Growing on tall shrubs with dense foliage, the small, red, mildly sweet berries known as miracle fruit seemingly magically can turn sour flavors sweet.
The plant that produces the berries, Synsepalum Dulcificum, is native to West Africa, where the fruit was traditionally used to sweeten palm wine and make soured cornbread more palatable. Growing best in acidic soil in tropical zones, the coffee-sized berries were introduced to Europeans by the explorer Chevalier des Marchais.
So how does it work? Th exact mechanisms here aren’t fully understood, but, in a nutshell, the fruit gets its sweetening properties from miraculin, a glycoprotein in the berry that binds to sweet receptors on the tongue. As to how the miraculin then makes sour things taste sweet, it appears to relate to the pH of the miraculin (which is neutral) and sour foods (which are acidic). More specifically, when the miraculin binds to the sweet receptors in the tongue, it is mostly inert until it comes in contact with acidic substances. When that happens, the miraculin changes structure slightly, with the result being the sweet receptors it is bound to become activated.
Because miraculin binds so strongly to the sweet receptors on the tongue, the berry does not have to be eaten with the sour food, and the sweetening effect may last as much as 30-60 minutes after chewing the berries. The duration of the effect depends on factors including the concentration of the miraculin, how long it was in contact with the tongue and the concentration of the acid in the otherwise sour food.
Not a subtle effect, the perceived sweetness produced by the miracle fruit can be remarkable – equivalent to up to…
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