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September 30, 2011 / David Bleeker

Weekend Edition: Miracle Berry’s Sour-Sweet Mystery Cracked

Time to decompress from the week with a little Wired Science science news…

Popping a squishy red miracle berry into your mouth is almost like hacking your taste buds. For up to an hour, the juices coat your tongue and previously sour foods like lemon and vinegar magically taste deliciously sweet.

The berry and its plant (Richardella dulcifica) grows in West Africa. While the local population has been using its miraculous properties for centuries, it was only in 1968 that the all-important protein miraculin was extracted and sold in tablets. They’re now available the web and often feature in “taste tripping” parties where brave souls dine on pickles and limes.

However, the exact mechanism that miraculin uses on your taste receptors, allowing it to magically turn sour into sweet, has been a mystery to science for almost four decades. Until now, that is, as a team of researchers from the University of Tokyo — headed by Keiko Abe — has uncovered the miracle berry’s secrets. [read more]

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