Miracle Fruit Flavor-Tripping Party

June 29 2009 - 4:39 PM

Ever since the NYT did a profile of the miracle fruit, I have been itching to attend a flavor tripping party. Though these are all the rage in New York, they unfortunately have not made as much of a splash in Chicago. Tired of waiting, I took matters into my own hands over the weekend and threw my own party.

For those unfamiliar with the miracle fruit, it is a berry of West African origins, and eating one temporarily changes the way you perceive tastes. Most strikingly, it will transform sour and acidic items into something sweet. For instance, lemons will now taste sugary sweet. To maximize your utility with the fruit, berries are commonly eaten at flavor tripping parties, where you can test the effects on an assortment of fruits, vegetables, cheeses, etc. The fun part is in discovering foods that now suddenly taste better or different. Berry + vinegar? Berry + bacon??

If you are leery of ingesting mysterious African berries with perception-altering properties, be assured that this is perfectly safe (and legal). Eating a berry causes the protein miraculin to bind to your tastebuds, which induces sweetness when it comes in contact with acids. There are no dangers associated with eating miracle fruit, according to Dr. Linda Bartoshuk at the University of Florida’s Center for Smell and Taste. In fact, the miracle fruit may even be good for your health! The berries are extremely popular in Japan as a weight loss device. Cafes catering to dieters have sprung up, selling tart low-sugar items in conjunction with the berries.

Additional reasons to throw a flavor tripping party:

  1. You are concerned that your friends may be getting scurvy.
  2. Telling people that you'll be "flavor tripping tonight" tends to raise eyebrows.
  3. It is time to clean out your refrigerator.

I procured my berries from Miracle Fruit Man, which is based in Florida. They pick their berries fresh to fill orders and FedEx the berries on that day, packed in dry ice. My order arrived as promised with 2-day shipping, and I kept the berries in my freezer for a couple more days until the party. To defray costs, I asked each of my guests to pitch in $5 to cover the cost of the berries. I provided plenty of food to start with, and people were also asked to bring random items that they thought might be interesting with the berry. In the end, we had everything from apple to zucchini.

For an added twist, we made a batch of grapefruit juice cupcakes with goat cheese frosting. Yes, you read that correctly. The idea was to create a tangy, slightly sour cupcake, which would taste appropriately sweet after eating the berry. The goat cheese would taste like a cream cheese frosting.

Now, does it actually work? It turns out that there is a right and wrong way to eat the berry. (Directions are included with the package.) I instructed everyone to place the berry in their mouth, remove the seed inside, and move the fruit's flesh around for 2 minutes, before chewing it up and swallowing it. Ideally, you want to evenly coat as much of your tongue as possible with the pulp. Otherwise, you can end up with patches of untreated tastebuds. The miracle fruit itself is fairly pleasant, akin to a tart cranberry, unless you accidentally bite into the seed, which results in some bitterness. On average, the flavor trip will last for an hour or so.

The effects are immediate, and after eating the berry, we made a beeline to the bucket of lemons. As billed, the lemons were sweet, though you could still feel your mouth puckering. It was unanimously agreed that the limes were the best, and tasted like a delicious limeade. Salt and vinegar chips tasted sweeter, as did oranges, grapefruit and kiwi. Grapes, cherries, bananas and apples tasted about the same. The raspberries tasted like raspberries. The snozzberries tasted like snozzberries. There was not much of an effect on the vegetable items either (bell pepper, radish, zucchini). I drank a small cup of cider vinegar, and though my nose wrinkled at the smell of vinegar, the drink itself was inoffensive, sort of sweet and tangy.

I found that the diced onion underwent the most interesting transformation. It tasted like…nothing. Or maybe a mild jicama. The sting and potency of raw onion had completely disappeared, but you could still smell it. It was a very strange sensation. The kick in other spicy foods was similarly muted. A vinegar-based hot sauce was now fairly mild. Salsa verde which had been extremely spicy had become pleasantly comfortable, and the acidic tomatillo puree was sweeter. Horseradish was much less pungent. Unlike my last Seder, I could eat spoonfuls of it without coughing. For good measure, we also had a bottle of Campari, a notoriously bitter liqueur. After the berry, the Campari tasted…pretty terrible, as it did before. For entertainment purposes, I encouraged other people to drink the Campari by telling them it was now sweet.

As for the goat cheese cupcakes, these were a bit of a disappointment. Before the berry, they tasted like an overwhelmingly cheesy biscuit. And after the berry, they still tasted like an overwhelmingly cheesy biscuit. For the frosting, we used a tub of goat cheese spread, which then tasted like cream cheese, but not cream cheese frosting. Maybe it would have been better to top the cupcakes with lime-goat cheese spread?

Having extolled the safety of the miracle fruit above, I should mention one potential danger of flavor tripping: downing all those lemons and limes can wreak havoc on the lining of your esophagus. My throat was definitely burning a bit by the end of the night. It's a good thing I didn't end up drinking the pickle juice.

At any rate, let me know if you throw a flavor tripping party of your own! I'd be interested in knowing what raw garlic and olives taste like under the influence.