From sour to sweet: how ‘miracle fruit’ changes our taste.
What is Miracle Fruit?
How’s the name right? Before you roll your eyes let me just point out that the name comes from the active ingredient, ‘miraculin’. Or at least that’s what got me through my research on it.
Miracle berry, miracle fruit, or my personal favourite, Synsepalum dulcificum, is a West African plant discovered in 1700s by a French explorer. You may have heard about it in the news or media recently, particularly for its ability to change our taste!
Miracle fruit has shown some promise in helping people with taste changes during chemotherapy. Obviously that sparked our interest enormously!
It’s also super sweet and can be used as a low-kilojoule sweetener. It has about a third of the energy (kilojoules/calories) and sugar as blueberries. Some research also suggests it may therefore help improve blood glucose control in diabetes.
Miracle fruit contains the active ingredient – miraculin (hence the name, they’re not just boasting!). Miraculin is a glycoprotein that binds to the sweet taste receptors on our tongue and alters taste perception from sour to sweet. It’s been found to be effective with acidic, bitter or sour foods and the effects occur for 1-2hrs after consumption but the intensity declines over this period.
Fun fact: it only changes taste in primates, not rodents so mice studies don’t work!
What does the science say?
There have only been really small studies of the impact of miracle fruit on taste during chemotherapy.
One study was done in just 8 people receiving a variety of different chemotherapy agents for a variety of different cancer diagnoses. In this small study, the participants took either 6 miracle berries or 6 placebos (cranberries) per day just before meals and were asked to report on the taste of their meals. Most of the foods consumed after the miracle berry tasted better to the participants, although interestingly, some dairy products including milk and yoghurt were reported to taste worse!
Another study, also with small numbers (28 people this time) was carried out in people receiving a variety of different chemotherapy agents who had reported a loss of taste or metallic taste. The study found that taste was stabilised in 50% of the participants when they took the berries, and taste was improved in 30% who took the berries.
These studies are really small with a number of limitations and it’s therefore really difficult to determine how effective the fruit is. Larger studies are needed to explore if these little gems could be safe and helpful for people with taste changes during or after chemotherapy.
Some other studies have suggested that miracle fruit may assist in reducing spread of melanoma cells (test tube studies only), and worked to reduce plasma glucose levels in mice.
Some others may try to tell you that miracle fruit will help with weight loss but there’s no good scientific studies to back this up yet.
Contraindications and Side effects
Miracle fruit is rich in antioxidants. The phenolic and flavonoid compounds of miracle fruit can help to repair cell damage and therefore we recommend caution with taking miracle fruit (or any derivatives) when undergoing radiotherapy or some chemotherapy agents (including doxorubicin and platinum-based therapies such as Cisplatin, Carboplatin and Oxaliplatin).
Some side effects of stomach ache and throat discomfort have been reported although these seem to be rare.
As always, please speak to us, your doctor or health professional before taking any alternative therapies to ensure it’s safe alongside cancer treatment or any medications you’re taking.
Where to get it?
You can find miracle fruit online and there are some farms up in Queensland. Capsules are selling online for approx $2.50 per capsule. The ingredients are generally the miracle berry pulp and a binding agent. We recommend looking for a natural binding agent if you can.
Do NOT take miracle fruit capsules or supplements if you’re undergoing radiotherapy or platinum-based chemotherapy (check with your dietitian, pharmacist or oncologist). You’ll need to avoid miracle fruit for 2 days either side of these treatments due to the antioxidant load.
Is it worth it?
We might just have to order some and give it a try for ourselves! And we’d love to hear from you if you already have!
- Kurihara K, Beidler LM. Taste-modifying protein from miracle fruit. Science. Sep 20 1968;161(3847):1241-1243.
- Inglett GE, Chen D. Contents of phenolics and flavonoids and antioxidant activities in skin, pulp, and seeds of miracle fruit. J Food Sci. Apr 2011;76(3):C479-482.
- Wang YC, Hong ZL, Chen HA, et al. Bioconstituents from stems of Synsepalum dulcificum Daniell (Sapotaceae) inhibit human melanoma proliferation, reduce mushroom tyrosinase activity and have antioxidant properties. Journal of the Taiwan Institute of Chemical Engineers. 2011;42:204-211.
- Chen CC, Liu IM, Cheng JT. Improvement of insulin resistance by miracle fruit (Synsepalumdulcificum) in fructose-rich chow-fed rats. Phytother Res. Nov 2006;20(11):987-992.
- Wong JM, Kern M. Miracle fruit improves sweetness of a low-calorie dessert without promoting subsequent energy compensation. Appetite. Feb 2011;56(1):163-166.
- Soares HP, Schwartz MA, Pizzolato JF, et al. Treatment of taste alterations in chemotherapy patients using the “miracle fruit”: Preliminary analysis of a pilot study. J Clin Oncol, 28, 2010 (suppl; abstr e19523).
- Theerasilp S, Hitotsuya H, Nakajo S, et al. Complete amino acid sequence and structure characterization of the taste-modifying protein, miraculin. J Biol Chem. Apr 25 1989;264(12):6655-6659.
- Koizumi A, Tsuchiya A, Nakajima K, et al. Human sweet taste receptor mediates acid-induced sweetness of miraculin. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. Oct 4 2011;108(40):16819-16824.
- Kurihara K, Beidler LM. Mechanism of the action of taste-modifying protein. Nature. Jun 21 1969;222(5199):1176-1179.
- Paladino A, Colonna G, Facchiano AM, et al. Functional hypothesis on miraculin’ sweetness by a molecular dynamics approach. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. Jun 4 2010;396(3):726-730.
- Paladino A, Costantini S, Colonna G, et al. Molecular modelling of miraculin: Structural analyses and functional hypotheses. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. Feb 29 2008;367(1):26-32.
- Wilken MK, Satiroff BA. Pilot study of “miracle fruit” to improve food palatability for patients receiving chemotherapy. Clin J Oncol Nurs. 2012 Oct;16(5):E173-7.
- Misaka T. Molecular mechanisms of the action of miraculin, a taste-modifying protein. Semin Cell Dev Biol. 2013 Mar;24(3):222-5.
- Du L, Shen Y, Zhang X, Prinyawiwatkul W, Xu Z. Antioxidant-rich phytochemicals in miracle berry (Synsepalum dulcificum) and antioxidant activity of its extracts. Food Chem. 2014 Jun 15;153:279-84.