Last week I helped throw a flavor tripping party for Gastronomy Society. We purchased Miracle Fruit Tablets online since we were expecting a big group and the fresh fruit would have been cumbersome and expensive. With a list of tasting recommendations, I went shopping for sours, bitter, and spicy foods. This was my first experience with miracle fruit and I wanted to get a variety of flavors.
I first read about the wonders of miracle fruit in a New York Times article last year. It occurred to me that the best way to experience the sensory-altering Synsepalum dulcificum would be in a party setting. It's not like I'm going to finish lemons and jars of pickles on my own. A shopping list of sour foods isn't all that practical in large amounts. In fact, going through checkout at the grocery was an odd experience itself. I got a weird look from the cashier when I paid for lemons, limes, grapefruits, olives, pickles, salt and vinegar chips, wasabi peas, sour patch kids, and a bottle of balsamic vinegar.
Miracle fruit gets its unique properties from a glycoprotein called miraculin; yes that's seriously what it's called. Though the actual mechanism does not seem to be fully understood, miraculin binds with flavor receptors on the tongue so that these receptors respond to tart acids as well as sweetness. The effect is that formerly sour foods become sweet and formerly sweet foods can become overly cloying. Miracle fruit had grown in West Africa for some time, and had even been floated as a sugar substitute for diabetic and dieters in the 1970s. Unfortunately, a last minute change by the FDA shelved the widespread introduction in the US.
The tablet I had tasted vaguely like raisins. I couldn't tell if that was the flavor the fruit was supposed to have or if it was an additive. The trick is to let the pill dissolve on your tongue. I had quite a few people coming back to me to ask for more tablets because they chewed and swallowed the first one. With my tongue sufficiently activated with miraculin, I picked up a plate of enough acidic foods to wear away the enamel on my teeth.
I started with the pickle. Not much of an effect. I intentionally avoided sweet pickles and bought dill slices in hopes that the fruit would do its work. Sour Patch Kids lose much of their appeal when they are just Sweet Patch Kids. Wasabi peas were easy to just pop into your mouth and forget about. The pill probably tapered off some of the harshness of the wasabi, but it still tasted about the same. Salt and vinegar chips were oddly sweet. Not sure they were quite as satisfying without the sourness. I didn't bother with the cheap balsamic. People told me it tasted like bad wine. I have a bottle of seven-year aged balsamic from Italy that's sweet enough by itself to drink from a glass. I didn't need a miracle for that to be delicious (especially on strawberries and vanilla ice cream)
The best foods to eat with the miracle fruit effects were the citruses. Lemons, limes, grapefruits, I could just bite into the slices like oranges. The bitterness of grapefruit wore away, the main reason I avoided pamplemousse before. The lemon and lime, stripped of their acidity, expressed their unique flavors more readily. It was an opportunity to appreciate the lemon and lime for more than the juice, in the same way the zest gives you those essential oils without the mouth puckering. Too often lemon-lime flavors are conflated in artificial flavorings. They're really not the same. Stripping away the juice gives them them the chance to express their inner fruitiness.
The party wrapped up since our keg of Guinness couldn't be tapped. Did you know Guinness kegs require special taps? Keep that in mind if you ever order one. About an hour after most people left, the store brought us a few cases of bottled Guinness. At this point it was mostly just the Gastronomy Society board that remained. We celebrated with the dark beer, which combined with the miracle fruit, was creamy like a milkshake and much smoother to drink. This was the last event of a year of chocolate and cheese tastings, movie nights, taco trips, dumpling crawls and Indian buffets. I'm taking event suggestions for next year now, and miracle fruit party is on the top of the list.