The Science of Miracle Berries and Your Taste

March 30, 2007

TasteBuds:  The Science of Miracle Berries and Your Taste 

 Competency #  14 Superfoods                ReferenceWall Street Journal – Front Page, Friday March 30, 2007 

 Miracle Fruit is otherwise called Synsepalum dulcificum.  It comes from West Africa and tastes a little odd.  It’s sort of mushy and with a big pit.  And it rots so fast that you can hardly ship it.  It would be best to Fedex overnight or grow your own.  The Four Seasons Hotel in Palm Beach does.  It has two bushes growing nicely.  

But that’s not what’s fun about it.  The berry has some miracle-like quality compounds in it.  These compounds bind to your sour and bitter receptors on your tongue for about two hours.  Things that used to taste terribly sour suddenly are sweet.  Presto, chango, you have a little gustatory miracle.  Rhubarb is like eating a sugar stick.  Limes and lemons are deliciously succulent.  Sweet strawberries are almost too sweet.  People have even reported a bologna sandwich with mustard tasted sweet.  Some bitter coffees change into sweet drinks.  All of this without a drop of sugar. 

 The science of taste is taking off.   Beverly Tepper, from Rutgers, has been chasing “super tasters”.  If you are a “super-taster”, you will taste a compound called 6n-propylthiouracil (PROP) as intensely bitter.  If you aren’t, you can’t taste it at all.  Nothing.  This starts to explain why some people LOVE Brussels sprouts.  And some hate them.  The same is true for broccoli and etc.  About 25% of Caucasian Americans are “super-tasters”, 50% are average, and 25% are non-tasters.  

The non-tasters like high fat food better.  Supertasters perceive sweetness more, they like texture more, and they like chili peppers more than non-tasters.  You can’t tell that about yourself, because you can’t switch your taste buds.  But here is the interesting part.  If you take women in their forties and look at their taste “preferences”, you find that super-tasters are 20% skinnier than non-tasters.  They just eat less, naturally.  Their average BMI is 23.5.  Average tasters have a BMI of 26.6.  Non-tasters have a BMI of 30.  A Body Mass Index of 30 is obese. There are exceptions, and lots of them, so these are just the beginning of trends.  Your adventuresome eating index, to quote Dr. Tepper, counts.  Is your primary sense gustatory or are you more restrained.  Do you have self-control?  (Tamed your inner elephant?) 

 WWW: What Will Work for Me?  This is early science.  There are no direct applications now.  But it’s insight.  I must be a non-taster because I love Brussels sprouts.  But non-tasters smoke more, and I don’t.  Though I tried my best to start in high school.  I can’t wait to try a super berry though.  It’s spring and my rhubarb is coming up, and it’s always way too sour to eat very much of it, so it just sits there.  I’m going to watch this emerging science of taste.  Hope may be around the corner for my 10 pm ice cream urges.

The column is written by Dr. John E Whitcomb, MD, Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield, WI (262-784-5300)