There's a berry that -- once you eat it -- makes bitter and acidic foods taste sweet. When the tongue is under the influence of this surprising fruit, lemons become lemonade. Unripe tomatoes burst with flavor. And vinegar might be mistaken for apple juice.
It's called the "miracle berry," and some claim it can do more than temporarily confound the palate. In his new book, the "Miracle Berry Diet Cookbook," chef Homaro Cantu argues that if used properly, the berry can reduce the need for refined sugar and processed and artificial sweeteners.
Ultimately, Cantu says, by turning sour flavors into sweet ones, the berry could play a role in the nation's obesity epidemic by helping consumers break the bonds of sugar addiction.
"The problem with diets is they taste horrible. You're always sacrificing," said Cantu, who incorporates miracle berries into various courses at his innovative Chicago restaurants, a dining experience known as "flavor tripping."
"But if we can make a diet that is good enough to serve in a high-end restaurant -- we season food in a back-door, roundabout way -- we win by eliminating sugar. Then it's no longer a diet but a way of life."
Cantu's book, the fruit of eight years of experimentation, features 150 recipes, ranging from savory Homemade Donuts -- made using a normally sour tasting, lightly fermented dough -- to mincemeat pie with pickle juice and even the Skinny Margarita (the juice of limes, lemons and oranges, ice and tequila). While the foods are designed to be eaten after the berry has been consumed, the recipes can stand on their own, he said.
The cookbook will especially help those living with medical conditions, including diabetes, and cancer patients undergoing treatment, Cantu said. It's also designed to answer what he calls one of the biggest food problems: a lack of competitive options to sugar.
"Everyone talks about taxing sugar, but at end of the day, we're addicted to sweetness," he said. "We're never going to give up, so let's give them sweetness without calories and chemicals."
Still, while the berry might effectively rewire the palate and trick the taste buds, experts on taste and behavior say it's not a proven weight-loss aid. After all, the berry can make beer taste like chocolate. Here's how it breaks down:
How it works
Miracle berries contain a protein called miraculin. When miraculin is consumed it "causes foods that are acidic and would normally taste sour to stimulate sweet taste receptors on the tongue, making the foods taste sweet," said Susie Swithers, a professor of behavioral neuroscience at Purdue University, whose research has looked at high-intensity sweeteners and body weight regulation.
After eating the berry -- which is available online freeze-dried, frozen or in tablet form -- the effect lasts 30 minutes to an hour. Tablets ($15 for 10 tablets) have the longest shelf life, but they are still highly perishable and, once opened, should be kept tightly wrapped in an airtight container. With frozen berries, make sure not to thaw one unless you plan on eating it immediately. And avoid the bitter-tasting pit.
The miracle berry could "change the future of food by significantly reducing the need for refined sugar and all processed and artificial sweeteners. It could help patients enjoy food again or feed the world on wild vegetation in any growing zone around the world," Cantu wrote.
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