Pie of the Tiger
A week and a half ago, Baker Bee and I threw our first flavor tripping party. It wasn't our first experience with miracle fruit, but most of our guests were flavor tripping virgins. This was awesome, because in this case your first time is probably going to be the best, and if there's anything more fun than flavor tripping yourself, it's watching someone else's eyes go big as they bite into a lemon wedge...and then seeing them immediately reach for another.
Miracle fruit is a little red berry from Africa, originally eaten by the local populace to make their food taste better, but now also a staple in the diets of urban foodies and inquisitive geeks elsewhere in the world. The berry itself doesn't taste like much--or so I've heard, as I've never had a fresh one--but the results are, well, miraculous, thanks to a chemical in the berry called--get this--"miraculin". When scientists start calling things miracles, you know you're dealing with something truly special.
What the miraculin does is bind with your taste buds in such a way that sour foods taste sweet. Oh, they still taste sour, too, and you'll feel your mouth ache from the acid after about a half hour of dashing back and forth to the fridge and pantry to find everything sour you own. But the sourer the food or drink is, the sweeter it becomes. Not only that, but the sweetness lets other flavors speak up that you've never noticed in the foods before. It's pretty amazing, trippy, even--hence the they popularity of the term "flavor trip" for a miracle fruit tasting.
Sooner or later, you are going to try this. At least, you should. Not because all the other foodies are doing it, but because it's one of those food experiences that will stick with you for the rest of your life. My memories of my first time are bright, vivid with color as well as taste. It's like turning into a child again for a half hour or so...a child presented with a table full of unfamiliar foods that all turn out to taste like candy. You will be shocked. You will be surprised. Even knowing that it's going to be an amazing experience, you'll still be blown away by the first bite.
It's best, though, to be prepared for your first flavor trip, so I'll offer some advice and relate some of our findings so you can make the most of it.
Flavor Tripping 101
1. Acquire Your Miracle Fruit
The berries themselves are extremely perishable. You can find them for sale online sometimes, but they're expensive and have to be used immediately. Luckily, miracle fruit also comes in a handy tablet form. The ones we get come ten to a blister pack, and unopened they have a shelf life of about a few months.
Be warned that at around a dollar a pop, even the tablets may seem a little expensive. But when you consider the price difference between Two Buck Chuck and a fine ice wine (we'll come to this soon) or the price of admission to a movie these days, you get a lot of fun and flavor for that dollar. You can find some recommended suppliers here at My Flavor Trip.
2. Acquire Your Test Subjects
Never trip alone is a piece of advice that works here, too. What's the fun of flipping out over the taste of a lime if you don't have anyone to share it with? A party like the one we held last week is fun, but the first time we tried miracle fruit it was with two close friends who we share a lot of culinary adventures with, and I think a group of four to six people has its own advantages. With fewer people, you're able to hear what everyone thinks of everything. With a large group you get a party atmosphere, hearing impressions here and there and getting lots of opinions on a few of the items.
Either way you decide to go, once you have your miracle fruit in hand, pick a time and place and invite your guests. If you're having a lot of people over, you might want to ask people to kick in a dollar or two for the tablets and so on, or you can do what we did and ask everyone to bring something to try. You can even provide a list of suggested foods and drinks and have people pick from that.
Which brings us to...
3. Acquire Sourness in Many Forms
If all you have is a lemon and a bottle of vinegar, don't put the tablet in your mouth just yet. After your first taste, you're going to want to try as many things as possible, and if you aren't well supplied you'll end up trying some very strange things. So here is a list of things we've tried, with the caveat that everyone's taste buds are different, and you might love something we didn't care for or hate something we liked. There are a number of lists already on the internet of things to try with brief descriptions of what they might taste like, but in the interest of not being redundant I'm going to provide as much info as I can, including suggestions on how much to buy and how to serve it. Remember, some things you might not think of as sour actually have acid in them, which is all the miracle fruit needs to do its thing.
Bananas: These were surprisingly good. The miracle fruit definitely brings out their sweet, creamy nature. I thought they tasted like banana Runts, and I wasn't the only one to say that. You'll only need one, unless you're having a lot of people over. Slice it up and put it near the toothpicks.
Granny Smith Apples: Definitely sweeter, pleasantly (but not miraculously) so. One apple should be enough for everyone to try, even at a large party. Slice into small wedges just before you get started, or prevent it from browning with lemon juice or citric acid, which probably would amp up the sweetness here.
Kiwi: This turned too sweet for us. We've heard the same thing about pineapple.
Starfruit: I've never understood the point of starfruit, other than its striking look, because every one I've ever had has been extraordinarily bland. So I got one to see if miracle fruit made it taste edible to me. It did taste much better...but I can't say I necessarily liked the flavor that was brought out. Still, they had a noticeable transformation and looked pretty in slices on the platter, so you might want to get one. I seem to remember all of it getting eaten.
Strawberries: Along with lemons and limes, these are a must-have in my opinion. Find the least ripe berries you can--look for white around the hulls--and they'll taste like they were baked to the point of over-ripeness in the summer sun. Get at least two strawberries per person.
Watermelon: The miracle fruit improved the flavor, but not dramatically. Our watermelon was out of season to begin with and still tasted out of season with the miracle fruit. We had a tiny watermelon, and it was twice as much as we needed for our big group.
These are the reliable stars of any flavor trip. In general, the best way to serve them is in wedges. When we first thought about having the party, I envisioned serving them as supremes or even sliced into cubes, but I realized that the surprise factor of the flavor would be directing in proportion to how visually apparent it was that a lemon was a lemon. The peel on the wedges also acts as an easy thing for people to pick the fruit up by, making them finger-food friendly.
Plan to slice each fruit into 12 to 16 wedges or so, depending on the size, and allot one and a half to two wedges per a guest if you're serving a large variety of different foods, or two to three or more if you have a shorter list. You will at least want a lemon and lime, if nothing else.
Blood Oranges: These were the big hit at our party. The extra jolt of sweetness balances out the slightly more bitter and sour flavor these beauties usually have in comparison to regular oranges, and that extra sourness and bitterness also gives them a lot of flavor once the sweetness is added.
Grapefruit: Yummy, yummy candy. You can still taste the grapefruit, but most people who hate grapefruit will suddenly love it.
Lemons: These get very, very sweet and you'll want to eat more than one, most likely. Think lemon drops! In fact, I did think Lemon Drop one night and mixed lemon juice and vodka together, and it was delicious but too sweet. I think either more vodka (careful there) or some club soda would dilute it nicely next time.
Limes: Just like lemons, only better. Okay, okay, that's just a personal preference for lime flavor, but really they're just as good.
Oranges: Candy. Not a necessary thing to have, as some oranges can be awfully sweet to begin with, but they might be good as a benchmark food.
Seville Oranges: Sweet...but wow, still bitter and sour! Worth trying if you can pick one up. These are the oranges that marmalade is made from.
I didn't see anything about this on the internet when we were searching for info a few months ago, so I consider this a prime piece of advice: wait to try dairy (or anything with fat in it) until you've tried everything else. Our theory is that the fat kills the trip by coating your taste buds in fat. On the bright side, if for some reason one of your guests really doesn't like the miracle fruit and wants it to stop now (why this would be, I don't know...everyone loves it in my experience), you can hand them a tub of sour cream.
Because of this fact, and the fact that we weren't impressed with most of the dairy we tried, we haven't really experimented much in this area with the miracle fruit, but I can tell you about the things we have tried.
Chevre or Cream Cheese: Both of these are touted on some lists to taste like cheesecake. To us, they didn't. I don't remember if I tasted the chevre myself, but the cream cheese just tasted like cream cheese without the tang, i.e. bland and not very good at all.
Sour Cream: This, however, does taste like cheesecake. Try dipping an under-ripe strawberry in it! You can cut down on the dairy effect by using lowfat sour cream. I recommend not doing what we obviously did from the picture at the head of this post and take the time to put the sour cream out of the tub and into a bowl if a lot of people are going to be breathing on it. (Fortunately, we were near the end of that tub anyway.)
Other Cheeses: I vaguely recall trying the blue cheese we had out at the party, and I think it tasted pretty good. But I can't quite remember.
You don't need to plan on a full bottle of each beer or whatever for each person. Just get one or two bottles of each thing you want to try and provide small glasses for people to sample them in. Those glasses will be handy when people start raiding your cupboard for vinegar.
Beer: Baker Bee says that the IPA he tried tasted like caramel soda...well, bitter caramel soda.
Two Buck Chuck (Charles Shaw Chardonnay): The miracle fruit makes this cheaper than cheap bottle from Trader Joe's taste like a $40 ice wine. No joke.
Young's Double Chocolate Stout: This was one of the very first things I tried with miracle fruit, and I still get excited about it: it tastes like a chocolate milk-flavored soda. You can often find it at Trader Joe's. Make sure to get the carbonated bottled version, not the canned nitro one, because the carbonic acid adds more sour for the miracle fruit to convert to sweet.
And don't forget mixed drinks, like the Lemon Drop I talked about above made with just lemon juice and vodka!
Chocolate: This didn't work for us. We tried unsweetened chocolate, but there wasn't enough acid for it to do anything. Also, the fat content had the same dulling effect I warned about with dairy above, and probably was responsible for ending our first flavor trip.
Dill Pickles: They tasted like sweet pickles, which would be good if you like sweet pickles. Not so much if you don't.
Hot Sauce: I've read online that Tabasco sauce tastes like hot doughnut glaze. I would really like to be able to confirm this because how cool would that be, but we keep forgetting to try it! However, we have tried some other hot sauces, and they definitely get sweet.
Vinegar: You should try this...once. And possibly not swallow. It tastes sweet in your mouth, but your throat knows it's vinegar when it goes down. Just get a few bottles out from the start because invariably someone (most likely male) will have to try it.
Salsa: I tried the pico de gallo we had out with the non-miracle fruit food, and the miracle fruit made it taste like a mango salsa without the mango flavor. It was pretty good, but I suspect the chip I ate it on may have started the downward curve of the miracle fruit's effects, like I described with dairy.
Sushi: I haven't tried this myself, but there was sushi at the party because one of our friends had read online that the miracle fruit brings out the natural sweetness of the fish. Baker Bee, who tried both tuna and salmon, says that it tasted like sweet sushi, and that it didn't taste bad, but sushi is better savory. The fish itself tasted better, but the rest of the sushi didn't.
4. How to Do the Actual Tasting
Give everyone a tablet, and instruct them to swirl it around in their mouth for at least a minute before swallowing. It has a sweet, candy-like flavor, so don't worry about it tasting bad. Baker Bee likes to chew his up and then swish it around his mouth, while I tend to think that moving the whole tablet around on my tongue does a better job of coating my tastebuds. Both ways seem to work equally well, but that doesn't mean I can't be stubborn about sticking to mine.
Once the minute has past...dig in! It usually lasts about 30 minutes for us, depending on what we eat when, so the clock is ticking.
5. Record Your Observations at My Flavor Trip
We enjoyed our first miracle fruit tasting so much that Baker Bee decided to set up this site for people to share their experiences and exchange information about what different foods taste like. It doesn't look like much yet, but it has both a wiki and a forum, and we'd really like to see it take off. So if you do have a miracle fruit tasting, please come back and go post on the site.