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Sour to Sweet: The Story of Miracle Fruit

Small, red berry,

The miracle fruit,

The more you eat, the more…

… It’s sweet!

The miracle is that this fruit can change flavors from sour to sweet! Miracle fruit, Synsepalum dulcificum, is a tropical berry from West Africa. Scientists have identified the molecule, called miraculin, which binds to your taste buds and causes this magical sensation when you follow the consumption of the miracle fruit with a sampler of sour. Traditionally, tribes consumed the fruit before imbibing sour palm wine.

The fruit grows well here in Central Florida under dappled light. The plant likes it acidic with a 50/50 peat perlite substrate, and it does not mind being in a container. You will have to cover it or bring it inside in the case of a freeze. A bit of extra irrigation during the dry months, and a complete fertilizer a few times per year will keep the shrub yielding enough fruits to share! When the plant is happy, it will give a couple flushes of fruit annually.

To experience the miracle, start by rinsing the berry and putting it in your mouth. Gently chew and peel away at the flesh surrounding the large seed in the center. No need to crush the seed, just move it around your mouth and coat your tongue with the flesh. Spit out the seed. Start with a slice of a lemon or lime and enjoy the lemonade or limeade flavors moments later. If you dare, allow your curiosity to sample away! The miraculous effects will last about 30 minutes to 1 hour. It even makes water a little sweeter, like when you dispense water from a soda fountain and the water shares the same spigot as the tropical punch. A word of caution, do not eat before a fancy dinner unless you are okay with your entire meal becoming an expensive experiment.

The miracle fruit is pretty trendy for a fruit, and has been the theme of parties and culinary creations! You can enjoy that sugary sweet without the sugar rush or the calories, and some patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiation have indicated that a nibble of miracle fruit can help overcome the nasty, metallic flavors associated with treatment.

More than anything, the miracle fruit is one little way to make a big impact on someone who has never really given much thought to plants, even the ones we eat. I dub it the “gateway plant to gardening.” The truth is that all plants have seemingly magical properties…and many plants are truly miraculous!

At least 25% of pharmaceutical drugs are extracted from plants! Yet less than 1% of plant species have been exhaustively studied for their pharmacological potential. Much of the knowledge of finding, cultivating, and using plants is housed in the minds and incantations of indigenous healers. Cultural  knowledge that has been passed down through generations of tradition is going extinct at a far greater pace than any living organism. It is estimated that every two weeks, an indigenous elder passes, and with them goes an entire language that will never be uttered again. What if with that language, a plant capable of curing COVID, was lost?

Think for a moment, if knowledge of the miracle fruit died with an elder, having never been recorded for its useful effects. Scientists of today would never be able to explore its use as an alternative sweetener, and chemotherapy and radiation patients, who claim the fruit helps make some foods more palatable, would be sick out of luck. It is vitally important that we know the plants, their identities, their common and scientific names, and of course, their uses from food, to fiber, to fascinating!

I bet your grandma or your uncle has a story they would love to share with you about a plant they used when they were growing up! Ask them to share their stories. Write them down. Commit them to memory. Think of your own relationships with plants. Grannie was not very outdoorsy, so the only plant story she shared was about selecting her own switches for spankings. In case you were wondering, she picked the small switches, and I was always a very well behaved child because of those stories. Plants can have a sensational impact on how we view the wonders of the world, influencing religious philosophies, laws, traditions, medicines, fabrics, structures, landscapes, meals, and so much more.