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Miracle fruit: A (legal) trip for your taste buds

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OK, so we’re not talking about a psychedelic experience, but taste-tripping does to your taste buds what (um, we imagine) psilocybin does to your visual perception: completely warps it in a bizarre way. Imagine the stereotypical psychedelic trip — bright colors, loud patterns and weird revelations — only on your tongue. A Fanta commercial in your mouth — without you having to actually drink Fanta.

The “drug” isn’t a drug at all. It’s a berry that comes from synsepalum dulcificum, a plant native to West Africa, and it confuses your tongue into thinking lemons taste like candy, Brussels sprouts taste like something enjoyable and strawberries are almost sickeningly sweet. The effect lasts anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours, making acidic foods seem sweet and taking the bite out of bitter foods.

While it’s currently not approved as an artificial sweetener, it’s sometimes used to restore appetite in cancer patients whose chemotherapy treatment has dulled their taste buds. Miracle Frooties, which manufactures a tablet form of the “miracle fruit,” claims on its website that “about 90% of chemo patients report to have improved their taste with Miracle Frooties,” and even promises to refund customers’ purchases if it doesn’t work for them.

In Japan, miracle fruit is popular among diabetics and dieters, though no research exists confirming its effectiveness as a weight-loss aid. The theory seems to make sense, though: As a sweetener, it’s low in calories, all-natural and has no known side effects. It’s fair to hypothesize its potential benefits for those with diabetes and obesity.

But the reason completely healthy people are buying it? Parties. People purchase a surplus of the fruit and invite friends to taste-trip with them. A New York magazine article described one party host ushering “his guests to a table piled with citrus wedges, cheeses, Brussels sprouts, mustard, vinegars, pickles, dark beers, strawberries and cheap tequila, which Mr. Aliquo promised would now taste like top-shelf Patron.” (We bet the hangover didn’t feel like it was top-shelf Patron — just sayin’.)

While single berries can cost you $2 or more, the fruit is also sold in tablet form, such as the Miracle Frooties we mentioned earlier, which can be bought at select retailers or online and has a shelf life of about 18 months (compared with a few days for berries).

The Miracle Frooties website recommends trying lemons, limes, oranges, kiwi, pineapple, apples, pears, grapes, rhubarb, grapefruit, pomegranate, raspberries, strawberries, watermelon and currants — but we also suggest trying the not-already-sweet foods, like “Mr. Aliquo” offered at his party: Brussels sprouts, dark beer and pickles. Get creative!

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