BY OWEN MORRIS
On a recent Friday night, in a house on the edge of suburbia, a group of young professionals gathered in a cavernous kitchen, eying suspiciously the mixture of fruits, vegetables, spices and alcohol laid out before them. Some were nervous, others skeptical and a couple openly questioned the legality of what they were about to do. It was a miracle fruit party.
Miracle fruit is a small, South-Asian berry that for the most part lives up to its name. Due to a special protein, it is able to rewire the tongue's tastebuds and make acidic foods taste sweet. Really, really sweet. Lemons taste like lemonade, vinegar tastes like juice and Guinness tastes like chocolate milk.
At this point though, none of the guests were buying it. Instead of a berry, I was asking them to take miracle fruit in tablet form and by my own admission, the tablets, from China, were sketchy. I had no choice. The fruit is nearly impossible to get in America (the FDA has no ban on miracle fruit itself but has denied approval of using miraculin, the wonder protein in miracle fruit, as a sweetener, thus the defacto ban.) It does not travel well and starts to go bad after a couple of days, meaning shipment from other countries is fruitless. The few vendors who grow it in the U.S. have waiting lists. In tablet form, though, the effects are the same. Several Web sites sell the tablets, but eBay is usually the cheapest source.
No matter how you get it, miracle fruit still surprises.
We were getting ready to taste radishes, rhubarb, apple and malt vinegar, cream cheese, lemons, Guinness, Boulevard Pale Ale, Patron tequila, Montezuma tequila, under-ripened tomatoes, cherries, grapefruit, tonic water and a dozen other foods.
I encouraged all the guests to taste the foods before dropping the tablet and was disappointed that many did not. It just wasn't a very curious group of people. At least before the fruit started.
At 11 p.m., we passed around the tablets. We let them slowly dissolve on our tongues, then passed around a bowl of lemon wedges. The change in people's attitudes was immediate. "Holy shit! That tastes good!" said the woman who had previously challenged the tablets' legality. "That's sweeter than lemonade!" declared another woman. Several people asked for more lemons. Suddenly, people who'd refused to try rhubarb 10 minutes earlier now fought over it. Even the pickiest of the bunch were drinking vinegar straight out of the bottle.
While the vinegar wasn't bad, it still smelled strongly of vinegar which ruined whatever sweetness was on the tongue. Cream cheese was another disappointment, as it tasted just like normal cream cheese. Raw radishes were unaffected. But for all the other foods, there was a positive taste change. Under-ripened tomatoes tasted like "tomatoes grown in a garden," someone proclaimed. Tonic water was sweet and the $8 bottle of Montezuma tequila tasted every bit as good as the $35 bottle of Patron. If someone would have given me the Guinness blind I would have sworn I was drinking Shatto chocolate milk.
The effects started to fade after 20 minutes and around 30 minutes, food was back to tasting the way it always did. The party returned to normal and the rhubarb went untouched.
Talking about it later, the general consensus was that while it was worth trying, it was a little too radical for most people. As one man from Olathe put it, "I knew it would change the way things taste, but I didn't know it would change them that much."