Have you ever considered drinking a glass of vinegar? Unlikely. If that same vinegar tasted like apple juice, it might be a different story.
Being able to consume such a disgusting liquid is made possible by the miracle berry, or Synsepalum dulcificum. Originating in West Africa and first documented by the French in the 18th century, the miracle berry, when eaten, makes sour foods taste sweet. The miraculin protein found in the berry binds itself to the taste bud receptors that recognize sweetness, and its effects can last up to an hour. The fruit itself is not notably sweet; the entire experience is based on the relationship between the protein and the taste buds. According to those who’ve tried the taste-altering fruit or the condensed tablet form, lemons taste like sweetened lemonade. Beer approaches the flavor of a chocolate milkshake. Tabasco sauce reminds tasters of the glaze that tops doughnuts.
While the berry itself is pretty impressive, what Dr. Mike Cusnir thought to do with it is remarkable. Looking beyond the berry’s recreational use, Cusnir envisioned a practical application. As an oncologist at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami, Cusnir was regularly informed by his chemotherapy patients that after undergoing treatments their taste sensations were damaged. Food was bland, metallic-tasting, and generally unappealing. The unappetizing flavors caused the patients not to eat. Ultimately, people who were already extremely sick were suffering from weight loss and malnutrition, further compromising their immune systems. After hearing about the fruit, Cusnir immediately filed for an investigational new drug application with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The $100,000 study, sponsored by an anonymous donor, asks 40 chemotherapy patients to take surveys about their taste experiences. The patients go through two chemotherapy cycles while involved in the study. After one cycle the patients eat their regular food and record their taste sensations without using the miracle berry. The next cycle requires eating the berry before consuming food.
Cusnir is optimistic based on his initial findings. Many patients report an improvement in their taste sensations; however, it is not an overwhelming success. Most claim that the berry significantly masks the metallic taste but does not quite reach a normal taste experience.
Cusnir’s ability to repurpose a fruit from a novelty to a medical treatment is not only creative but also beneficial to society. His ultimate goal is to get enough positive results to be able to fund a large-scale study. Because the process for introducing a new drug into the market takes years of research and testing, it will be a long time before the miracle berry could be potentially established as a treatment for chemotherapy symptoms. It would be nice if the process was short and sweet.
The video below shows people experimenting with different types of foods after eating a miracle berry. Be on the lookout for a random Colin Farrell cameo!