Miraculin is one of those lovely and bizarre chemicals that fools your nerves (in a tenuously similar way to capsaicin).

Occuring naturally in these little red West African berries, it’s completely tasteless and odourless. What’s amazing about miraculin is that it temporarily fools your tastebuds. After eating some, any sour flavour will taste sweet. So sweet that you could quite happily eat a whole lemon without even wincing. Originally, people considered it to be miraculous, so they named the fruit “Miracle fruit” or “Miracle berries” — hence, miraculin.

Chemically, miraculin is a glycoprotein, and no one knows exactly how it works. It’s thought that it binds to the sweetness receptors in your tastebuds, changing their shape and allowing them to be activated by acidic foods, which are usually sour. The effect lasts around an hour (depending how long it’s in contact with your tongue and how concentrated it is).

This stuff is totally harmless. In fact, it’s legally used as a sweetener in Japan. It has no legal status in Europe and although it was turned down for use as a sweetener in the USA, I don’t think it’s actually illegal there.

Actually, a friend of mine’s buying some from a website. We’re going to buy a load of lemons and raspberries and have a sweet and sour party…

About Invader Xan

Molecular astrophysicist, usually found writing frenziedly, staring at the sky, or drinking mojitos.
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8 Responses to Miraculin

  1. invaderxan says:

    Oh, right! Sorry — brain freeze.
    Yeah, they might stock it… Though personally, I’d be cautious about using the stuff in it’s pure chemical form. ;)

  2. You know… Sigma Aldrich? They are one of the main chemical distributors here in the states…

  3. invaderxan says:

    There are loads of online vendors actually — I was quite surprised!
    There’s even a place in New York that apparently delivers the fruit fresh!

  4. invaderxan says:

    There are a couple of US retailers, actually… Like http://www.miraclefruithut.com/ — they even sell the plants!

  5. invaderxan says:

    Strangely, there are a few other chemicals out there with a similar effect — as well as a few that mask bitterness, and at least one with an anti-sweet effect.
    And yeah, no problem. If it turns out to work well, I’ll remember to let you know! :)

  6. Very cool! I’ll have to see if I can get my hands on some. I’d be very surprised if Sigma didn’t carry it.

  7. Oh, nifty! I read about that in the New York Times and really, really wanted to try it out.

  8. pax_athena says:

    That was a fascinating bit of information. Never heard of something alike existing – though if you really undergo this small experiment with the friend of yours, you have to tell me whether it really has such a strong effect. Sweet lemons, huh…
    Chemistry is fun and I always regret that I never came around to a class on organic chemistry :(

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