When you first arrive at a “flavour tripping party” you’ll either be handed a red berry or a tablet to dissolve on your tongue. Soon you’ll be able to eat lemons without wincing and throwing back shots of vinegar with ease, but first you need to let the miracle fruit work its magic.
Synsepalum ducificum, commonly known the miracle fruit, originated in West Africa and has been used by people since at least the 18th century to make acidic foods taste sweet.
One of the earliest accounts of people eating the miracle fruit came from a European explorer named Chevalier des Marchais, who discovered in 1725 that West African tribes ate the berries before consuming traditional dishes of bland oatmeal gruel and sour palm wine.
In 1968, scientists isolated the protein in the berry that causes the reaction and named it “miraculin.” Miraculin binds to the receptors on your taste buds and rewires how they usually work. Generally, sour foods taste sour because of how the acid reacts with specific receptors on your tongue. When you eat acidic foods after eating the miracle berry, however, the protein creates an ultra-sweet sensation that drowns out any sour taste.
Several companies — including one called mBerry — have started selling tablets of the condensed protein. The tablet form creates an experience that lasts about 20 minutes. If you eat the actually berry, the effect can last up to an hour.
Hosting flavour tripping parties has become more of a trend since “The New York Times” wrote about the phenomenon in 2008. (Busines Insider recently challenged its own employees to try the mBerry at its headquarters in New York). But my friend Megan Corbet and I wanted to check a real one out.
We found an event co-hosted by Fiestah and Eventurously and each shelled out $US10 for two mBerry tablets and roughly 40 minutes of flavour tripping fun.
When we arrived, the hosts gave us our tablets and instructed us to let one dissolve in our mouths while swishing it around slightly to make sure that our tongues were entirely coated with the magic protein. It took about five minutes for each tablet to fully dissolve.
We then got to pick and choose from a table full of food samples. Most of the items were things you would never normally chow down on plain, including slices of onion, lemon, and lime, and small cups of pure vinegar. There were also plates full of Sour Patch Kids, grapefruit, and salt-and-vinegar chips.
We loaded up our plates and each grabbed a shot of vinegar:
We decided to start with the least threatening food items first. The Sour Patch Kids, for example, didn’t taste very different. They simply lost some of their signature tang. The green apples still tasted like apples, though definitely sweeter than usual. If you closed your eyes, you felt like you were crunching on a ripe red apple, instead of a usually more tart green one.
The salt and vinegar chips were the first dramatically different flavour experience. The tasted like they were dusted with sugar, instead of salt. The flavour reminded us of candy corn.
We had the most fun with the lemons and limes. They tasted absolutely delicious. The first nibble of an ordinarily wince-inducing lemon wedge tasted like an extra sugary glass of lemonade. If anything, it was a little too sweet. The limes tasted like they had been candied.
The grapefruit tasted largely the same, but there was zero need to pucker as you might usually after a big bite. We both easily could have eaten several of each type of fruit, since it was pretty much like eating candy.
The scariest part of the taste test was taking the shot of vinegar. As we brought the cups close, the acidic smell was nearly enough to discourage us from trying it. But everything else had tasted ok, right? Bottoms up!
Sure enough, the vinegar wasn’t bad, and almost tasted like apple juice. It felt a little strange going down our throats and we both realised that we could do a better job of coating our entire tongues when we ate our second berries, since we got a tiny hint of real vinegar where it touched the sides of our tongues.
By the time we had gone through both berries, we had consumed plenty of lemons, limes, chips, and vinegar. We had definitely had enough of the over-the-top sweetness that the miracle fruit produces, but it was an overall fun experience and pretty mind-boggling to try.
Although everything that we tried tasted sweet and for the most part pretty good, my stomach definitely felt the after-effects that night of having a dinner composed of tangy fruit and vinegar shots. Our tongues also tingled slightly, probably from licking all the acidic foods.
If you can’t find a flavour tripping party in your area, you can buy the mBerry tablets that we ate for $US15 for ten tabs.
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