(For my last post in this series about my mother’s garden, which is my way of honoring her this Mothers’ Month of May, I am featuring a most unusual fruit — something that, come to think of it, is like our mothers who help make even the worst of times just a little better. )
Of all the produce in my Ma’s garden, this is probably the most unusual — synsepalum dulcificum, better known as miracle fruit or magic berry. It is so called because of the amazing effect it has on one’s taste buds. Simply put, it makes everything, and I mean everything, taste really sweet.
By itself, miracle fruit (or as we know it in our house, magic fruit) is not that remarkable. The flesh is thin and is only mildly tangy — nothing special. But a few seconds after you eat it, the ‘magic’ happens. You can then suck on a halved sour lemon or bite into a slice of unripe pineapple and it will be the sweetest lemon or pineapple you’ve ever tasted.
Soy sauce and vinegar become sweet, garlicky longganiza becomes longganiza hamonado, fruits that are already sweet become almost unbearably saccharine, and antibiotic emulsion tastes like … melted ice cream (or so my nieces say, hehe). According to a New York Times feature on Miracle Fruit ‘taste-tripping’ parties, it even makes Tabasco taste like doughnut glaze!
The ‘magic’ in the magic/miracle fruit comes from ‘miraculin’, a substance that binds to the taste buds and somehow heightens the sweetness in anything. (And that is all the ‘scientific explanation’ I have for you.)
A plant native to Africa, the miracle fruit plant thrives in tropical climates and bears fruit year-round. There are always at least a few berries ready for the picking whenever I go home. It is a regular fixture at our breakfast table because my parents who must watch their sugar intake use it as sweetener. (It does the job with black coffee, too.)
The miracle fruit’s sweetening effect is so strong, it is supposed to make even raw onions (the pungent variety) edible and sweet. One day I might just try it. I’m sure it’ll be a good surprise, wonderful enough to move me to tears.