Gallery turns sour things sweet

Miracle fruit tablets make sour lemons taste like sweet oranges. (credit: Kristen Severson | Photo Editor) Miracle fruit tablets make sour lemons taste like sweet oranges. (credit: Kristen Severson | Photo Editor)

Junior electrical and computer engineering major Manasi Patil sucked delightedly on a lemon quarter. “This tastes just like lemonade!” she exclaimed. While it might sound strange that Patil felt she was drinking sweet lemonade straight from a sour lemon, she wasn’t imagining it in any way. She was, in fact, experiencing the effect of a marvelous creation called the miracle fruit tablet.

A freeze-dried form of a wondrous African berry called miracle fruit, this tablet, like the berry, has the ability to change the way the consumer tastes sour things and makes them taste sweet. It blocks the taste receptors in the tongue that taste sourness with a substance called miraculin, which allows sour things like citrus to be perceived as sweet. The effects can last from 15 minutes to an hour and can be eliminated by drinking some tea or hot water.

Last Friday, the Miller Gallery hosted a Taste Odyssey Reception, intended to provide a taste-tripping experience to the first 150 visitors by rewiring their taste buds with a miracle fruit tablet and presenting them with a plethora of sour foods to sample. Spread across two tables were glasses of sour lemon quarters, bowls of bright pink vinegar punch with yellow lemon slices, pale-green vinegar bubble tea, a plate of colorful sour gummy worms, boiled vegetables like radish and carrot, tiny cups of hot Tabasco pepper sauce, bowls of salty, vinegary potato chips, and pickled cabbage.

Visitors who wished to experiment — not all were very willing — were handed a tablet and instructed to let it dissolve gradually in their mouths. Once the tablet was all gone, the experimenting could begin.

Under the influence of the tablet, the sour gummy worms and potato chips were deliciously sweet, the vinegar punch milder than its usual self, the vinegar bubble tea milky, and, as mentioned before, the lemons tasted like lemonade. The effect on the Tabasco sauce was not very impressive, and the sauce retained its original fiery taste.
What was most exciting and confusing about the experience was the conflict between the senses of smell and taste. While drinking the vinegar punch, one could still smell the acidic odor of vinegar, but its taste completely contradicted what was expected. Also, it still caused a burning sensation in the throat, and Miller Gallery staff members advised against drinking too much of it, no matter how harmless it tasted, since it still had the same effect on one’s body.

These miracle fruit tablets are used for more than just recreation and do have a very useful purpose. They are given in unlimited supply to some of the most unlikely people — chemotherapy patients. Some of these patients, who have lost most of their sense of taste due to the continuous exposure to radiation, are using these pills to make food more enjoyable. Children who are cancer patients are also being administered a dose so that their medicine tastes better.

Miracle fruit is a unique manifestation of the mysterious ways of nature, and its effects are so surprising and delightful that everyone should, whether in berry or tablet form, give it a try. The tablet can be purchased online and one of the popular brands to look out for is Miracle Frooties. They sell a pack of 10 large-sized tablets for $14.95.