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Miraculin, a sugar alternative

Posted Apr 30 2011 11:55am

MBerry

Want to learn how to make sweet, luscious lemonade from lemons and without the sugar? Or maybe you are a lime person and would prefer to make sugarless lime candy. Regardless of your preference, miraculin has you covered.

What is miraculin?

Miraculin is a glycoprotein (a protein with attached carbohydrate chains) derived from the African miracle berry. More specifically, the plant from which miraculin comes from is known as Synsepalum dulcificum. Sure, the name “miracle berry” sounds crazy, but it was aptly named for its miraculous effects.

The miracle berry was first discovered in West Africa by explorer Chevalier des Marchais. Consumed for thousands of years by natives, the miracle berry can coat the tongue with miraculin which, in turn, attaches to the sweet receptor taste buds and causes them to activate upon contact with acidic foods. Essentially, you taste sweetness when eating something sour. The sour taste itself remains, but the sweetness vastly overpowers the sourness.

The miraculin berry spoils easily, so currently, the easiest way to get miraculin is in a tablet form. Companies that sell miraculin extract the protein from the berries and preserve them as tablets.

To successfully “eat” miraculin, you must not swallow the tablet or fruit but let the foodstuff dissolve on the tongue for as long as possible. For the tablet, roll it around your tongue until it has all dissolved. For the berry, let the juices soak on your tongue for a while–I have not tried the berry form of miraculin, so I cannot be sure.

Miraculin’s effect lasts from 15 to 45 minutes, after which your taste buds return to normal. Note that there are no lasting after effects of using miraculin.

Tasting

I was able to test a select amount of foods while under the effects of miraculin. Here are my thoughts.

Strawberries: Sometimes, I eat a strawberry that really sucks, and I’m sure you all know what I mean. You bite into the berry, and it’s all nice and shiny, but when your teeth sink in, you’re met with bitter, acidic juices that make your face cringe. With miraculin, it’s impossible for that to happen. Every strawberry is a good strawberry, and the good one’s become great. Strawberries tasted under the effects of miraculin are subtly more sweet.

Kumquats: To be honest, I’ve never had a kumquat while not under the effects of miraculin, so I can’t give a comparison. However, the miraculin-induced kumquats were sweet yet tart, a feisty combination for the adventurous eater.

Lemons and limes: These taste wonderful. They’re basically what you’d expect from really high quality lemonade or limeade.

Clementines and citrus: Citrus tastes absolutely amazing with miraculin. The sweetness nears the edge of too sweet but does not quite hit that limit yet, so the result is a super-charged citrus fruit.

Health implications of miraculin

Miraculin obviously has vast and substantial health benefits. You could go on a diet eating healthy acidic foods and consume very little calories—all while feeling like you are indulging yourself in
candy. In fact, miraculin usage in Japan is popular.

Commercialization of miraculin

Unfortunately, mainstream usage of miraculin in America remains a sensitive issue. Sugar and corn syrup producers have valid reasons to oppose miraculin because their products would lose value. In a country where obesity remains a significant issue, any solutions—including miracle berries—seem like godsend. The repercussions of widespread miraculin usage for sugar and corn producers has resulted in at least one failed attempt to streamline miraculin. A company called the Miralin Company had tried to commercialize miraculin in the 1970s. Although the Miralin Company received favorable reports for approval from the FDA, the FDA announced, on the eve of the Miralin Company’s product launch, that miraculin would be classified as a food additive in the U.S. and required extensive testing before commercialization. When the Miralin Company requested documents regarding the FDA’s decision, significant portions of the document were blacked out, suggesting intervention from industrial giants. Despite funding from Barclays, Prudential, and Reynolds Metals, the Miralin Company went bankrupt after the FDA’s decision and failed to continue their plans.

Genetically modified miraculin producing vegetables

Using biotechnology, Japanese scientists were able to engineer a transgenic lettuce that produces the miraculin protein in 2001. In 2009, Japanese scientists at Nara Women’s University managed to engineer E. coli bacteria that produces miraculin, and in 2010, scientists at University of Tsukuba engineered tomato that produces miraculin. If you ate any of these “designer” foods—with the exception of E. coli, which you should not eat—you could start eating sweeter versions of lemons, limes, strawberries, citrus, and more. Hopefully, research like these leads to the mass production of miraculin and widespread distribution of the product.

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