Due to popular demand and the fact that we love trying weird foods and candies, The A.V. Club will now regularly feature "Taste Tests." Feel free to suggest disgusting and/or delicious new edibles for future installments: E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Synsepalum dulcificum, a.k.a. magic berries or miracle fruit
Back in May, The New York Times ran a story about an entrepreneur who was organizing "flavor-tripping parties" around a little red berry widely known as "miracle fruit," in part because of one of its components, a protein called miraculin, and in part because of its effects on the human palate. According to a university researcher who studied the berry, miraculin "binds with the taste buds and acts as a sweetness inducer when it comes in contact with acids."
In other words, it makes sour things taste sweet.
At the New York flavor-tripping parties, guests paid $15 apiece to eat a single berry, then chow down on lemons, Tabasco sauce, vinegar—anything mouth-puckering that would taste surprisingly different if infused with a cup of sugar. The Times' description of these parties was so ultra-awesome that it prompted a massive demand for miracle fruit, driving up prices on outlets like eBay and overwhelming the few farms that produce them. Naturally, we here at The A.V. Club didn't want to admit that we're all secretly averse to fun, so we joined in on the frenzy, bought a small sealed pack of magic berries online, and dove into our own table of face-crinkling foods to see what the experience was like.
The result wasn't as overwhelming as the Times promised. Something about phrases like "magic berry" and "tripping party" made us all expect to enjoy a wild high, then pass out at the office and wake up groggy two days later, each of us on a separate Chicago rooftop, wearing nothing but feather boas and detached toilet seats. The actual experience was much less Hunter S. Thompson and much more Mister Wizard: Apart from some minor glee over how good fresh lemons and goat cheese tasted, and a certain air of scientific curiosity, our flavor-tripping party was pretty much like any office party where people happen to be wolfing down sauerkraut instead of sheet cake.
Taste: The magic berry itself has a very mild, minor taste. It's a little tart and a little sweet, like a mix between a cherry and a wild cranberry. It's firm like a cranberry, with a thin rind and a thinner layer of pulp surrounding a central seed about the size and shape of a pine nut. The instructions ordered us to each chew the rind and pulp off the seed, holding it carefully in our mouths for a full minute and trying to entirely coat our tongues with the juice. (This was not in any way made easier by Josh Modell, in a rare moment of seeming obliviousness about any potential double meanings, urging us all, "Keep it in your mouth and swish it around really good," then lamenting, "I don't think I sucked on mine enough.")
Most of us were looking for some kind of telltale reaction—a tingling tongue, a brief dizziness, a spicy warmth in the mouth, a sudden ability to taste color, a desire to break out the boas and toilet seats—but there wasn't any whatsoever. No one felt any different. And then we started eating lemons, and they tasted exactly like lemonade.
And here's the thing about "flavor tripping"—none of us really experienced any radically new flavors. Various things just tasted like they'd been coated with sugar. Lemons tasted like lemonade, Sour Patch Kids tasted like gumdrops, white vinegar tasted like a particularly sweet balsamic. The main thing was, we weren't necessarily sure going into each item whether it would change—radishes, for instance, remained fairly familiar radishes to most tasters—or how much. That at least, was kind of fun. So was pulling out leftovers from some past Taste Tests, or things from our bagged lunches, and seeing how or whether they changed. Among other things, tasters reported that diet sodas tasted exactly like regular sodas, and that the flavored vodkas we tasted recently were much milder, and could be sipped without inducing college flashbacks.
Much less fun: the after-effects. The Times article neglected to mention that while miraculin makes vinegar and Tabasco sweet, it doesn't make either of them any easier on the lining of the throat or the stomach. By the end of the day, miracle or no, all of us certainly felt like we'd been drinking pickle-Tabasco-sauerkraut-radish-mustard-vodka cocktails.
— "Kinda sour. Also, texture-wise, it's like a bean until you bite into it."
— "No real flavor, and nothing unusual about the texture. Didn't feel weird to me, either. Generic, tart 'berry' taste, I guess."
— "This tastes pretty good, actually, kind of like sour cherries. Kinda slimy after sucking on them for a while. The seed keeps spitting out of my mouth… That's what she said! Ugh, I hate myself."
— "This doesn't really taste like any berry I've ever had before. I didn't think it had worked at first, because there was no noticeable change. For some reason, I thought my mouth would taste better or sweeter, but it didn't."
— "Generic berry taste, with strong cherry overtones. They aren't bad."
— "After you suck on it for a while, then bite down, you get a quick shiver of sourness. And that's about it. I was too busy trying to figure out how it was affecting my taste buds."
— "A small cherry with a large pit. A little sour but otherwise nondescript."
— "I think it would've been good to eat a few of these berries to really coat our mouths. Damn you, New York Times, for making them so difficult to find! And us, for contributing to the scarcity!"
— "Surprisingly sweet, like lemonade."
— "These are really good! I could eat these the rest of the day."
— "Like a really sour orange."
— "Like eating something from an alternate universe where lemons could be consumed as easily and pleasurably as oranges."
— "Still tasted sour, but somehow not. Not exactly like lemonade, but surprising and delicious."
— "Delicious! I could easily eat a whole lemon. I feel like this would be a really good parlor trick, if I had the funds to spend $60 on berries every time I wanted to freak people out at a party."
— "Reminds me of eating a lemon Sour Patch Kid. Still sour, but not in the face-screwed-up kinda way, in a candy-like way."
— "Delicious! Like those sugar-covered candy wedges that look like lemons."
— "The berries basically take the edge off strong flavors. Lemons don't taste like cotton candy or anything—they're just less tart and more palatable to eat raw."
— "I can tell it's sour, but the intensity is surprisingly mild. I could probably suck on a few more slices without retching."
— "They still taste like radishes."
— "Yeah, it's just like a really mild version of a radish."
— "I don't eat radishes much on a regular basis, and these tasted as shitty as I remember real radishes tasting."
— "No real perceptible change… maybe some of the 'bite' that radishes normally have is gone. It just tastes crunchy and bland."
— "Bland. Devoid of flavor."
— "They just taste like generic root. Like a mouthful of taro, maybe."
— "Huh. Earthy."
— "The bite mostly disappeared."
— "Pretty yummy the first time. There was this really earthy sweetness giving way to a mild heat. I went back for seconds and it didn't taste as good that time, more like this gross horseradish mayonnaise I bought once."
— "Not good-tasting, but I can actually eat it like it isn't the most disgusting thing on the planet."
— "You can still taste the flavor, but it's doesn't knock you on your ass. It isn't as powerful."
— "Very interesting effect of quelling the heat of horseradish, leaving mostly grassy flavors. A pleasant, surprising taste."
— "It tastes like dirt. A big handful of fresh dirt."
— "Hey, that's really good! I'm gonna take it home and eat all of it."
— "It's kinda nice! Tastes like sweetish coleslaw."
— "Slightly sweeter, but it could just be inferior kraut. Not a winner, but not horrible."
— "I like sauerkraut, and I'm not really tasting a difference here."
— "Not terrible. More like warm coleslaw than canned sauerkraut."
— "About like normal. If anything, bitterer."
— "Sweet in the mouth, still burns in the stomach."
— "It's like balsamic vinegar, which I love, so this is a winner for me. It still stings my sinuses to gulp down a spoonful, though."
— "Exactly like balsamic vinegar."
— "Still tart, but much less intense. When it reaches the part of your tongue the berry doesn't affect, it's like a slap to the face, though."
— "I didn't detect the harshness usually associated with vinegar until I swirled it around and the vinegar hit the back of my mouth. Then it burned going down."
— "Tastes great, still smells awful. It burns my nose."
— "Like shrimp cocktail sauce."
— "Oh wow, this is good—OW! OW! MotherFUCKER!" [Later…] "That was probably the weirdest, because it was SO SWEET at first, then oh, the pain. I'm a wimp with spicy foods. But it was interesting how it really brought out a fruity flavor. I'd forgotten that chilies are berries, and can be sweet."
— "It still burns, but not nearly as bad as it normally would."
— "This is mostly blocked by the berry, but what's so weird is the heat remains. The sensation is really odd, like you're eating a flavorless liquid that sets your mouth on fire."
— "Still pretty hot. I feel it more on my lips than on my tongue."
— "Tastes exactly like mango salsa. Just a little hot, mostly sweet and fruity."
Sour Patch Kids:
— "Like regular gummi candy. I think Warheads would have been interesting."
— "Gumdrops with just a hint of sourness."
— "All the sour is gone. It's just a sweet gummi candy, but with that salty Sour Patch texture."
— "They don't really taste any different. They just aren't sour."
— "Without the sour, they're merely Patch Kids. They taste like regular ol' gummi."
— "It'd be an exaggeration to say it tastes like a gumdrop, but it's very close."
— "Oho! Not so sour now, are you!"
— "That actually tasted worse than usual, I'm not sure how."
— "I don't taste any difference at all. And plain yogurt is just gross. Ergo, still gross."
— "This is gross. It just made the yogurt taste like chalky goop. We probably could have mixed the yogurt better, because I'm not sure how much of that was the berry—plain yogurt is kind of nasty on its own."
— "Unpleasant. Chalky and slightly sour."
— "If anything, this is worse than regular yogurt. Just plain disgusting."
— "It's like super-sweet cream cheese."
— Delicious. I often buy a honey-flavored goat cheese to use in salads, and this tastes almost exactly like that."
— "This is fantastic! Tastes exactly like cheesecake. I'm already regretting how much of it I'm eating."
— "I really like this. I like goat cheese to begin with, but this is more like a cheesecake crumble. It isn't sweet, but it tastes like a subtly flavored cheesecake. Mmm, subtlety."
— "Very creamy and a little buttery at first, but the aroma of goat's cheese comes through as you breathe out the nose."
— "I find goat cheese unpleasant, usually, but the magic berries make it tolerable."
— "Generally, it tastes like a really cheesy cheesecake."
Hot Chinese mustard:
— "This isn't just not-sour, it's actively sweet."
— "The coolest of the bunch, I think, because you can feel the hot mustard burn, straight up into your nostrils, but not taste it at all."
— "Whoa. It doesn't taste like anything but stinging sinuses. This is the closest I came to tripping during this flavor trip."
— "It burns, but otherwise has no noticeable flavor."
— "Nothing whatsoever. It all hits the sinuses, but there's nothing on the tongue at all. It burns but has no flavor."
— "Wow. We really have discovered something that tastes like burning."
— "The Chinese haven't made a mustard the Africans can't defeat with berries. There is no mustard taste, but you still have the heat. Take that, China!"
— "I couldn't handle the jalapeno Pickle Sickle during the original taste test, but this took things down from unbearable to slightly bearable. I just can't taste the sour part at all. Still tastes like pickle, though."
— "Even the berries have their limits, and they can't knock out this jalapeño-and-pickle-juice abomination. When the Lord made the berries, how could He have known what we'd do with pickling technology?"
— "The berries absorb most of the impact. The popsicles are still fucking disgusting, but licking one isn't like a roundhouse kick to the head. It's more like a foppish glove-slap."
— "The Pickle Sickle defeats the berry. It just reduced the Pickle Sickle impact. I didn't even realize I was eating a jalapeno one."
Where to get them: eBay if you're in a hurry and have money to burn, via sites like miraclefruitman.com if you can wait for the next crop. Various online retailers also sell imported miracle-fruit tablets. Happy tripping.