Miracle Berry

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

  • About

miracle berry is a bright red berry from the Synsepalum dulcificum shrub native to West Africa, which has traditionally been used to make sour soups and palm wine more palatable. Although the berry has very little flavor of its own, it has a miraculous effect on taste buds. For up to two hours after eating a miracle berry, the taster experiences acidic and sour foods as deliciously sweet. The secret behind this taste transformation is miraculin, a protein that binds to sweet receptors on the tongue. When the mouth environment becomes acidic, the miraculin molecule changes its shape and activates those sweet receptors. Miraculin is sensitive to heat, so cooking the berry eliminates the effect. After eating a miracle berry, anything tart can be gobbled up like candy, though bitter flavors are not affected. Lemons, limes, and grapefruits are popular foods at “flavor tripping” parties, where people gather to share the odd taste experience of miracle berries.