Miracle fruit or miracle berry (Synsepalum dulcificum) is a little red berry from West Africa that makes sour foods taste sweet for an hour after you eat it. Lemons and limes taste as sweet as an orange, strawberries taste like they’ve been filled with honey, and unsweetened cranberries taste like cranberry candy after you’ve eaten miracle fruit.
The first time you try this fruit and experience the remarkable transformation of flavors it creates is always a memorable event. Over the years, I’ve given miracle fruits to hundreds of people, and I’ve gathered some tips for making sure your first experience especially fun.
First, it’s important to get a complete ‘before and after’ experience of how the miracle fruit effect changes sour to sweet. So I usually give someone a slice of a really sour fruit like lemon or lime, and first ask them to touch their tongue to it, just for the ‘before’ experience of how intensely sour it is.
Then I give the person a miracle fruit, and I tell them to bit gently into it so they don’t chew up the seed, and roll that seed all over their tongue as they work the flesh off it, making sure it touches every square centimeter of their tongue, including the sides and tip of their tongue. The flesh contains a glycoprotein which bonds to the taste receptors, affecting their perception of flavors, so it’s important to make sure that the tongue is completely coated.
Keeping the seed intact enables you to save it for planting. Also, sometimes plants include toxins in their fruit seeds in an evolutionary effort to keep animals from chewing up the seed. I’ve never heard of toxins in miracle fruit seeds, but it’s good to be cautious with fruit tree seeds generally, especially if you don’t know of a long history of people eating them.
Once the person has rolled the seed completely over their tongue and sucked all the flesh off it, which usually takes 30-60 seconds, I give them a second miracle fruit, ask them to repeat the process, and sometimes a third.
I used to think that a single miracle fruit was all you need to achieve full effect. But as my miracle fruit tree has produced increasingly abundant crops over the years, I’ve had enough fruits available to use them more freely, and I’ve discovered that the effect is cumulative, becoming more powerful with each successive miracle fruit you suck on. A single miracle fruit doesn’t always provide a fully dramatic taste transformation, and five or six of them can make things taste sickly sweet, but two or three miracle fruits eaten in succession seems like the “sweet spot”.
Once the person has eaten their two or three miracle fruits, I ask them to taste the slice of lemon or lime again. It’s always fun to see their reaction – a minute ago the slice was intensely sour, and now it tastes like a sweet citrus candy. I remember the first time I tried miracle fruit – I’d heard about it before, and somehow I’d convinced myself that the effect only works on some people, and that I would somehow turn out to be immune to the sweetening effect. Well, I was wrong about that – the sour citrus I tasted was dramatically transformed to sweet citrus for me, just like it is for everyone else. I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t experience the remarkable sweetening effect of this fruit.
Part of the strangeness of the experience when you bite into a lime or lemon slice after miracle fruit is that while your taste buds are now tasting the fruit as being sweet, your mouth can still somewhat feel the sourness of the fruit. Up until now, you’ve always tasted sour and felt sour in your mouth simultaneously – this is the first time in your life that your mouth has felt sourness while your tongue is tasting sweetness.
People often ask if miracle fruit changes the flavors of all foods. The transformation it creates is from sour to sweet, so foods that have any element of a tart/sour flavor become sweetened, including foods that you don’t normally think of as being sour, like spaghetti sauce and beer. Foods that don’t have any tart element taste the same as normal. Some foods like orange juice normally have a balance of sweet and tart flavors. After miracle fruit, the normal sweetness is still there, but all the tartness is converted to sweetness too, so orange juice tastes kind of sickly sweet, with no tartness to balance the sweetness.
When I do a miracle fruit tasting for people, I try to have a range of foods available for them to experience. Strawberries, blueberries, carambolas (starfruits) and cranberries are all good ones to try. It’s also fun to make some lemon ade or lime ade by simply mixing the sour citrus juice into water – it tastes like you dumped a bunch of sugar in it.
One issue to be aware of is that after miracle fruit, you might be tempted to bite into lots of intensely sour lemons or limes, and this can be hard on your tooth enamel if you do it regularly.
Another interesting effect of miracle fruit has been discoverd by people getting cancer treatments. Some types of chemotherapy cause an effect called ‘chemo tongue’, making foods generally taste flavorless or metallic. For at least some people, sucking on a miracle fruit before a meal can diminish the effect of chemo tongue, making the food taste closer to normal, enabling the person to eat better than they might otherwise.
I got my first miracle fruit tree as a small potted plant just after I moved to Florida in 1996. I’ve kept that plant with me over the years, transferring it to larger pots as it grew. Back then I was renting, and I’d carry it with me every time I moved. Finally, after I bought my own property and built a greenhouse, I planted it in the ground in the greenhouse around 2008. The miracle fruit plant is now taller than I am, and has several fruitings a year.
You can start a miracle fruit tree from seed. They like acid soil, pure sphagnum peat moss works well. Make sure the seed doesn’t dry out – needs to be planted within a few days of extraction from the fruit. These are slow growing plants, but they can start fruiting as a container plant after about three to five years from planting a seed, when the plant has gotten about one foot (30 cm) tall.
Most nurseries specializing in tropical fruit trees carry miracle fruit plants.
There are vendors online selling the fresh fruits, and some also sell freeze-dried miracle fruit powder.