The miracle fruit is one of the many trees that we have incorporated into the edible landscape at Marari Pearl. So we thank Veronique for writing about it in her BBC feature article How to Hack Your Tastebuds. In Kerala we have an abundance of the Indian gooseberry, or amla, which is described as sour, astringent, pungent, and bitter, but also sweet. A weird combination, to say the least. After reading Veronique’s explanation, it is easier to understand that the transition from sour to sweet in one or two bites can be explained through some chemistry that takes place on the tongue:
Your tongue is not a blank slate. What you’ve just eaten can change the flavour of what you eat next – for better or for worse. It’s all because your taste buds respond differently when the environment around them shifts – an effect you can use to go on a little mouth-hacking tour.
Let’s start with an artichoke. Eat one and then drink a glass of water and you might notice that the liquid tastes strangely sweet. Then there’s orange juice. Drink a glass after brushing your teeth with toothpaste, and the normally sweet drink tastes foul instead. And for mind-bending parlour tricks, nothing beats miracle fruit. These little red West African berries make anything sour taste sweet – and it’s a remarkably clean, pure sweetness.
To understand why these foods mess with your mind, first think about your tongue. It’s covered with little clusters of taste-sensitive cells, and each cell’s membrane is studded with proteins that function, essentially, as doorbells. When something – a molecule in food you’ve eaten – hits them just right, a message shoots from the cell to the brain, causing one of the five taste sensations: sweetness, bitterness, sourness, saltiness, or umami.
Stated that way, it sounds relatively simple, but researchers haven’t figured out all the details of taste yet: sweet, bitter, and umami have fairly clear relationships to specific cell proteins, but exactly how our tongues detect saltiness and sourness is still a bit of a mystery. And there’s a lot that goes on between your taste buds and your brain to create the sensation of taste that is still foggy.