Food holds the power to provide energy, soothe the soul, bring families together, and keep the stretch denim industry in business; however, that last attribute could soon grow cold. A long-kept secret among the culinary world may be sending elastics manufacturers to the unemployment line. Known simply as Miracle Berry, this tiny fruit from West Africa has been mystifying food aficionados in the United States since the 1960s but was old news to those in its native land by then.
The Miracle within
As the fundamental building block of life, protein in one form or another is found in all living things, both plant and animal. Miracle Berry happens to contain a highly specific type of glycoprotein now known throughout the nutritional sector as miraculin. Aptly named, this component of Miracle Berry generates a bit of an astonishing effect.
What’s the Secret?
Whether in a pill, powder or raw berry version, miraculin bonds with sweetness receptors on the tongue. The tastes of bitter, sour, or bland foods consumed afterward are completely altered. Sweetness is magnified, and other flavors receive a considerable lift.
“If you had a strawberry, it’s not just the sweet that goes up, but there’s a dramatic intense strawberry flavor,” explained Linda Bartushuk, University of Florida’s Director of Human Research with the Center for Smell and Taste. “That’s why people get such a kick out of it. The flavor increase is impressive.”
Though results are temporary, lasting between 15 minutes and 2 hours in most cases, they could have a lasting impact on a number of worldwide issues.
European explorers first discovered Miracle Berry being consumed by West African locals during the 1700s. They did so in an effort to make bland foods more flavorful, transforming an uninteresting bottom-of-the-barrel meal into an enjoyable dining experience. Dozens of edible effects widely available across the globe have significant nutritional value yet are barely palatable. In the face of rapidly swelling global population, miraculin could help stretch the already scarce food supply to adequately meet growing demand.
Miraculin has been said to make lemons taste like lemonade. While this may not sound like much to write home about, consider the caloric difference. An 8-ounce glass of lemonade sweetened with sugar is laden with 100 calories, whereas a glass of water containing the juice of an entire lemon holds only 17. By replacing a refreshing traditional beverage with a miraculin supplement and lemon water at each meal, someone trying to lose weight could create a daily deficit of 249 calories.
Using the same beverage comparison, the sweetened version has 25 grams of sugar. The more natural alternative has only 1.4 grams. Those battling diabetes may find a way to reduce sugar intake without sacrificing satisfaction by using miraculin.
Lemonade contains 10 milligrams of sodium while lemon water has a single milligram. Although the body requires sodium for maintaining homeostasis, moderation remains crucial. This essential element in high amounts has been found to increase blood volume, placing greater stress on veins and arteries; in other words, it could cause high blood pressure and affect kidney function.
These are only a few of the predicted benefits of commercializing miraculin. Researchers have also delved into the supplement’s potential for combating the taste-neutralizing effects of chemotherapy to encourage appetites among cancer patients.
Chicago radio personality and food journalist Louisa Chu noted, “I don’t necessarily think it’s going to be the next magic pill or silver bullet for our obesity epidemic, but it gets us thinking, and it may wean us from the sugar we take for granted and the hidden sugar in foods we don’t know about.”
Where is this Miracle Berry?
Culinary innovator Homaro Cantu began experimenting with miraculin recipes some time ago and has since published The Miracle Berry Diet Cookbook dedicated to returning the joys of food to dieters, diabetics, and cancer patients alike. He has developed a number of healthy alternatives to popular decadent treats as well as savory meals using miraculin extract.
Why is this not being Mass Produced?
Time, as they say, is of the essence. Miracle Berry plants take approximately four years to begin bearing fruit. After harvesting, the berries quickly wither, so they must be immediately freeze-dried or frozen to maintain their essence. Harlem-based Biotech Company MiraculeX is working on a technique using common lettuce as a genetic host for miraculin production. A team from the University of Tokyo is also fostering the process using tomato plants.
Politics play a role here as well. With the artificial sweetener industry expected to rake in more than $1 billion from the U.S. market in the coming year, commercialization of miraculin could certainly put a dent in their profits.
“I don’t want to say anything conspiratory, but everything that happens with the Miracle Berry tends to not work out,” stated MiraculeX CEO Alan Perlstein. “I try to be a little careful about what I do.”
This sentiment may hold some weight according to industry predecessor Robert Harvey. Following his attempt to commercialize miraculin in the early ’70s, the FDA determined this substance was a food additive instead of a natural product already proven safe for consumption. This prompted a more drawn-out and costly approval process than Harvey would have otherwise faced. His company went under shortly thereafter.
Experimental frontrunner Cantu recently passed away due to an alleged suicide. His unexpected death came subsequent to noting in a previous write-up he firmly believed Harvey’s reports of office invasion and being tailed by strangers. Considering these circumstances, Perlstein could certainly be justified in exercising caution.
Regardless of hurdles already in place, researchers are forging ahead in their development efforts. Research teams and companies like MiraculeX continue to seek out viable generation and preservation techniques. Pending a green light from the FDA, mass production is expected to begin in the near future. Once this does take place, the world could find relief from imminent food shortages, obesity, and diabetes pandemics and even first-world problems like malnutrition stemming from finicky children.
Information sourced from Harvard Health, Smithsonian Magazine, Food World News, and Forbes