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Thursday, December 18, 2008


Miraculin, miraculin, the miracle fruit, the more you eat, the more...your life becomes decadent and depraved

By now you've heard about miraculin, AKA "Miracle Fruit." It was profiled in the New York Times last summer and thousands of journalists and bloggers have written articles and posts about it since. If all of this is news to you, here's a quick rundown. There's a berry native to West Africa that makes sour and bitter foods taste sweet and sweeter foods unbearably sweet. It's a food-additive that, while perfectly legal in the US, has yet to be officially approved for sale by the FDA.

Miracle Fruit has no known negative side-effects other than the potential for an upset stomach and it remains a big hit among dieters in Japan. All in all, it's a relatively harmless novelty worthy of Willy Wonka.

And taking it can ultimately lead to you licking a seriously annoyed house cat.

Meet my sister Shanna and her boyfriend Kyle. They're two earnest, God-fearing, all-American 20-somethings and, prior to eating Miracle Fruit, would have never considered sticking their tongues on a filthy, disgusting feline. Have a look at this picture. Don't they just radiate all-Ameican-ness? Please ignore the fact that the orange cat looks like he's about to punch Kyle in the face. His name is Turbo. He likes to do that sort of thing.

I bought a few boxes of Miracle Fruit, in tablet form, off the internet that made their way to Portland from, strangely and disconcertingly enough, Slovakia. Obviously, I wasn't going to stick any of this stuff in my mouth without first testing it on two suckers people I respect and care about.

Last week, Shanna, Kyle and I rounded up several things to try with these tablets and chopped a few of them in two. According to the instructions, a half tablet would be enough to alter our tastebuds for anywhere between fifteen minutes and two hours. After Shanna and Kyle stuck their tablets in their mouths and didn't immediately keel over and die, I grabbed mine. The first step was to let them slowly dissolve on our tongues. This took forever.

But it was well worth it. The first thing we dug into were lemons wedges, which, amazingly, now tasted like lemon Starbusts. From there we moved on to spoonfuls of vinegar that seemed more like brown sugar. A glass of Guinness tasted like a watered-down chocolate milkshake. Once bitter wine tasted like Kool-Aid. The stinging effects of wasabi were almost entirely muted. Shots of rotgut mescal that a friend brought back from a trip to Mexico tasted like top-shelf liquor. Bitter beer? Not bitter anymore. Hot sauce had magically metamorphosed into mild salsa.

Simply put, Miracle Fruit lived up to its name and completely exceeded our expectations. We thought we could handle this. Unlike others we'd heard about, we assumed we had the willpower to not let all of this go too far and that we could learn from the mistakes of those who had come before us.

Fat chance.

Within twenty minutes we were going through the cupboards looking for anything consumable to stick in our mouths. Coffee beans, ginger and peanut butter tasted pretty much the same but we discovered that oatmeal worked as a great pallet cleanser for everything we could get our hands on. Spoonfuls of sugar just tasted more sugary and a bottle of Mexi-Coke tasted like Pepsi. The sweetness of an old package of Batman fruit snacks tasted incredibly sweet.

Then we got into the Robitussin. If you ever find yourself "flavor-tripping" at a Miracle Fruit Party, I strongly recommend bringing a bottle to freak everyone out once they start getting bored. With a miracluin-covered tongue, Robitussin tastes like the most amazingly screwed-up substance on the planet. It's not entirely unpleasant but incredibly overpowering. I can't quite capture the experience with words. Try it sometime. You won't be disappointed.

I don't know who's idea it was to grab one of the cats but suddenly we were all taking turns.

It took a grand total of, maybe, forty minutes for us to go from relatively sane people just like yourself to depraved feline-lickers. If Lou Reed had access to Miracle Fruit in the '60s I'm sure he would have written a thousand songs about it instead of heroin. I've got a video of Kyle tasting the cat but I guess I'll save that for another day.

You can wipe those foul jokes and metaphors right out of your head. That's my sister up there, dammit. Anyway, how did the cat taste? Not surprisingly, like hair.

Still, the cat wasn't the worst thing I stuck in my mouth that night. I found a lemon Starburst and it was unbearable. The sweetness tore through my tongue like an inferno in a Pixie Sticks factory and I had to spit it out within seconds. It was the sweet-equivalent of eating a super-hot jalapeno and it took several glasses of water to get the taste out of my mouth.

As time went on, we each kept a wedge of lemon handy to see if the effects had worn off yet. Kyle's tablet sputtered out first at the 30-minute mark. The effects vary from person to person. Shanna made it to an hour. I finally started tasting the sourness of my lemon wedge at around 85 minutes. By this time, Kyle was clutching his stomach and Shanna was feeling "pukey." She went into full "Evil Monkey from Family Guy" mode right before kicking me out of her apartment.

Curse you, Miracle Fruit! How many once normal relationships with siblings have you tarnished? How many homes have you wrecked? How many lives have you destroyed? How many millions of dollars have you cost this country in ineffective recovery prog...

...ok, enough of that. If you ever decide to give the stuff a try, heed this advice: remember, while vinegar may taste like brown sugar it ain't brown sugar and lemon juice is hard on the walls of the average stomach. Mix these things with hot sauce, candy, random condiments, alcohol, wasabi, cough syrup and cat dander and you're bound to get an upset tummy.

Moderation is key. You've got to control yourself but avoiding the inevitable queasiness that follows "flavor-tripping" is hard when pretty-much everything tastes fantastic.

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