Imagine biting into a lemon and tasting nothing but sweet lemonade. A unique plant protein called miraculin, named for its “miracle” ability to transform sour foods into sweet treats, makes it possible.
Over the last several years, people have begun throwing “flavour-tripping parties” where guests pop a miracle berry (which contains miraculin) before indulging in grapefruit wedges, Sour Patch Kids, and vinegar shots.
All you really need is a sprinkle of miraculin on the sour food, and the protein tricks your taste buds for anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours.
Now a New York City-based startup is harvesting this unique plant protein to make an artificial sweetener that the company claims is better tasting and better for you than real sugar. MiraculeX believes it’s the future of sweet.
MiraculeX looked to Mother Nature for a sugar substitute, and CEO and founder Alan Perlstein stumbled upon the so-called miracle fruit, a miraculin-rich berry that originated in West Africa.
Ten years he ago, while studying biology at Tuoro College, Perlstein came across miracle fruit while researching ways to help his grandmother, a cancer patient, enjoy food after chemotherapy wreaked havoc on her taste buds.
Today, MiraculeX mass-produces the miraculin protein found in miracle fruit in a hydroponics lab in New York. The company inserts the protein’s DNA into the genetic code of ordinary lettuce, which turns the lettuce into a pop-up miraculin factory. In less than a week, the lettuce is ready to be harvested and ground in a food processor.
Hydroponics, the method of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions in water rather than soil, allows the company to produce at scale in a small space. According to Perlstein, the protein found in the lettuce acts identically to the one produced by miracle fruit.
Each serving costs $0.32 to make, though the company expects that price to drop in the coming years.
Miraculin has yet to receive the Food and Drug Administration’s approval. In 1977, the agency concluded more evidence was needed to certify miraculin as safe for consumption.
Perlstein tells Tech Insider the company is seeking FDA approval for its product and will sell it in stores as a dietary supplement in the meantime. Miraculin-based products could hit shelves as early as 2016.
The company is also in talks with Nestle to bring their sweetener to market.
“We can finally allow everyone to have their cake and eat it, too,” Perlstein says.
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