Miracle Fruit: How to Trick Your Taste Buds

Miracle Fruit: How to Trick Your Taste Buds


This little tablet is made of a small red
fruit called the miracle fruit, a shrubby plant native to West Africa. The fruit itself doesn’t taste like much
— it’s got low sugar content and a slight tang kind, of like a mildly sweet cranberry
— but people don’t eat it for its taste. They eat it because of how it makes other
things taste. See, miracle fruit contains a unique protein
called miraculin that does something really weird to your taste buds when you eat it:
it makes sour stuff taste super sweet. I’m talking like, turning vinegar into syrup
and Tabasco sauce into donut glaze. Since miracle fruit isn’t always easy to
find, has a very short shelf life, and miraculin breaks down when it’s heated, people tend
pass the fun along by freeze-drying the pulp and mashing it into powder or pills like the
ones I happened to have right here… Fun times! So what the heck just happened to my tongue? Okay, for starters, your tongue is covered
in lingual papillae, otherwise known as taste buds. They’re receptors that translate food chemicals
into electrical signals that tell the brain what it’s tasting. Each taste bud contains
a bunch of taste cells with proteins that bind to the molecules in food, which is how
we detect specific flavors like sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. That is, unless you’re eating miracle fruit. Because when you chomp a berry or suck a tablet,
that miraculin binds to specific parts of your sweetness receptors.. Under totally neutral conditions, miraculin
actually blocks these receptors, preventing them from picking up sweet flavors in food,
which is one reason the fruit itself doesn’t taste like much. But under acidic conditions it does the opposite
— it jacks up your sweet receptors, making them extra /extra/ sensitive. So if you, say, take a bite of lemon or chug
some pickle juice, those acids actually cause the miraculin to change its molecular shape,
increasing the intensity of its binding power, and changing the shape of those sweet receptors
— making them go haywire. Suddenly all your brain is hearing from your
tongue is, that is SWEEEET! Just how sweet, you ask? Well, artificial sweeteners bind to your taste
receptors more aggressively than natural sugars, which is why most of the powder in the little
packets isn’t actually the sweet stuff. And one study showed that acid-activated miraculin
binds about a million times more strongly than aspartame — an artificial sweetener
— and nearly 100 million times more intensely than sugar. And if a stronger bond means a sweeter taste,
you can see how miraculin would make orange juice taste like maple syrup. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow,
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