My Taste Buds Find This Confusing

by Kristie LeVangie

So I have some hipster friends…this is starting to sound like a joke opener…what kind of blog starts like that?

Sorry.  Had to be done.  lol

Anyway, I have a lot of friends, but you gotta love the hipsters who introduce me to so many new things.

The latest craze among my hipster buds is flavor-tripping.  Have you heard of this?  They are throwing food-themed parties with a twist.

And it’s all due to a little red berry called the Miracle Fruit, or Miracle Berry.

Miracle Berry

You see Miracle Berries have a protein called miraculin, and it causes all kinds of confusion…with your taste buds, that is.

It takes sour and turns it sweet.  It takes acidic and turns it sweet.

Imagine drinking vinegar and thinking it is apple juice.  Or imagine drinking straight lemon juice and thinking it’s Penn Station lemonade.  This little berry can do that.

The effect only hangs around for an hour or two, but that’s perfect for a dinner party.

And while no one has really figured out quite yet HOW it works, they suspect is has to do with miraculin binding to the taste receptors and distorting them in some manner to create this bizarre effect.

miraculin molecular diagram

Now I invite you to think of the dieting possibilities here (because that’s how my brain works).  As long as you had miracle berries, you could drink or eat acidic or sour things, curb your sweet cravings, and without having to cheat at all.  Great for carb-counters and diabetics alike.

Will that ever happen?  Probably not.  The FDA squashed that possibility in the 70s when they classified it as a food additive.  This would, of course, require extensive testing to meet the FDA’s rigid requirements before it could be sold to the public in food items.

Be warned if you find yourself at a party with some of my hipster friends though.  They will tell the horror stories of trial, including upset stomachs and mouth sores, due to the overconsumption of acidic foods under the influence of this little berry.  Some will even bend your ear about “hangovers.”

These flavor-tripping parties are not cheap though.  A single Miracle Berry can cost you between $2 and $7.  So think about parties of 20 or 30 guests.  You could be talking over $200 already without the food or beverage.

Another thing to consider is that the miraculin starts to degrade in the fruit as soon as it is picked, so you better get them fresh.  This seems to be the biggest resource online with 20 berries going for about $50.  That’s quite a sale.

Prefer something a bit more manageable?  Try Miracle Fruit Tablets.  Each double-sized tablet has the same amount of miraculin as 3 berries.  (Try cutting them in half to stretch into two servings.) Each tablet runs about $1 to $2.

This isn’t the only taste bud confusion I’ve encountered lately either.  It’s seems to be a running theme in my life right now.

The other day I stopped at the drugstore to get some more toothpaste, and I found this:

Crest

That’s right.  It’s Mint Chocolate Crest.

While the taste is pleasant, as I brushed my teeth this morning for the first time, I found my brain completely perplexed.  We’ve been programmed since birth that chocolate is neither good for us, nor clean.  Think about it.  Most toothpastes have a vanilla or mint base.

This will take some getting used to…for my brain at least.  My taste buds agree that brushing your teeth with mint chocolate ice cream is delicious.  I just need to rewire the brain processes to recognize my teeth as being clean.

And then, a vendor sent me a gift for all the business I’ve been throwing his way…again, a perplexing combination involving chocolate!

Chocolate

Yep.  You’re reading that right.  It’s bacon-infused and chillie-infused chocolate.  There was also an Indian spiced bar, but we know how I can’t control myself when it comes to Indian food.  It was perplexing and delish. 😉

All of these combinations challenge my “idea” of chocolate.  They mix savory with my sweet, a habit I am not accustomed to.

I went out in search of research– one of my favorite pastimes.

Low and behold, it made more sense when I looked at this chart from TasteScience.com:

You see if I smell chocolate but taste bacon or the overpowering chillie, the flavor perception in my brain doesn’t jive with my expectations.  Therein lies my taste confusion.

For my geekier readers, I offer an excerpt from the TasteScience.com website:

An important finding reported by Dana Small, one of the most highly regarded taste/flavor researchers at the John B. Pierce Laboratory and Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, and her team, is that taste and smell together, but not separately, activate parts of the insula responsible for flavor, the anterior cingulate cortex, and a part of the orbitofrontal cortex situated close to the flavor center in the insula. The insula is involved in determining the “what” of a flavor; the anterior cingulate is involved in transmitting the emotional responses associated with a flavor; and the orbitofrontal cortex is involved in weighing decisions based on values, and answering the question: “is this food desirable or not?” Small and her colleagues found that whether we think a smell is familiar or not depends on pairing the smell with the taste that usually accompanies it. In their experiments, vanilla odor paired with a sweet taste made the vanilla odor familiar, but when it was paired with a salty taste, the same vanilla odor was unfamiliar. This finding helps to explain why we often say that certain odors are “sweet” – we have paired the odor with the sweet taste in our memory.

So I ask you, my readers, what is the one thing you’ve had lately that caused such taste confusion?  Let’s talk about taste.

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2 comments

  1. Just this afternoon at the Indian buffet . . . the problem is that there are so many dishes on my plate that I can get tastes that conflict when they intersect. Today, there was an onion chutney, chicken tikka masala, and some other black bean dish (the name escapes me) – at the intersection of the three, there was some familiar and attractive flavor from my past. But I couldn’t place it. It was almost like that word that was on the tip of your tongue that you just couldn’t identify – but with a flavor instead of a word.

    (And, for my money the best flavor bender chocolate I’ve had is the Mexican Style Cinn-Chile Dark Chocolate Bar from Olive & Sinclair Chocolate Co.)

    1. Must put it on my “to try” list.

      Indian food is my favorite combination of flavors. I could eat it everyday and never grow bored from the combination of seasonings and flavors.

      Great…now you made me hungry.

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