For all their Vitamin C goodness, lemons have a bad rap. They are tartly and set your teeth on edge. When life gives you lemons, make some lemonade is a common adage that bluntly says that lemons are the dark cloud, and the lemonade – with sugar added presumably – is the silver lining you must look for in your lemons. A 1960s folk song even calls the poor lemon fruit “impossible to eat” while declaring that the lemon tree is “very pretty” and the lemon flower “sweet”. Poor lemons, they can’t help who they are. And frankly many of us love them just as they are. They go great with gin and tonic, and add zing to the fried fish (they mask the fishy smell too).
But if you are one of those people who holds sourness against lemons, then a West African berry that numbs your taste buds so that things taste sweet could be your new best friend. The berry, known to science as Sideroxylon dulcificum, caused a craze in 2008 called “flavour tripping” according to the New York Times with parties organised where people would wolf down sour food without a care because they tasted sweet.
“Popping a squishy red miracle berry into your mouth is almost like hacking your taste buds. For up to an hour, the juices coat your tongue and previously sour foods like lemon and vinegar magically taste deliciously sweet.” Wired Science reports
The berry has a low sugar contentand an almost neutral taste. But it contains a protein called miraculin. When the fleshy part of the fruit is eaten, this molecule binds to the tongue’s taste buds, causing sour foods to taste sweet.
Miraculin has been extracted and sold since 1968, but exactly how it caused the sour to sweet conversion has been unknown. Now Wired Science is reporting that scientists have cracked this mystery. A team of researchers from the University of Tokyo have published a paper explaining it here.
Keiko Abe the lead researcher has said the miracle berries could have very important uses. “We are interested in a large-scale production of miraculin because it has a good, sucrose-like taste and combines a non-caloric property, since developing a safe sweetener for anti-diabetes and anti-obesity uses is of pressing importance.”