Miracle Berry

Miracle Fruit
Synsepalum dulcificum a.k.a. Miracle Berry

A relatively tasteless berry with an amazing side effect.

After eating one miracle fruit, sour things will instantly taste sweet. Eating even the sourest of lemons, one will taste only sugary sweetness. The effect lasts an hour or two. The miracle fruit is a remarkable natural sweetener that is virtually unknown to much of the world.

Berries are eaten fresh. Africans sometimes use the fruits to improve the taste of stale food. Fruits are being investigated as a possible source for a natural food sweetener.

The miracle fruit cannot be grown outside in the United States except Southern Florida, but it makes an easy houseplant. Fruit is produced throughout the year and hundreds of berries can be harvested from a single plant.

Miracle Fruit is native to tropical West Africa.
Scientific names: Synsepalum dulcificum, Synsepalum subcordatum
Family: Sapotaceae
Common name: Miracle Fruit
Origin: Ghana (Tropical West Africa)

…It is one of the strangest fruits in the world. The most unusual thing about it is the effect it has on one’s taste after this miraculous berry has been consumed. The “miracle” is that if lemon or other sour food is eaten after the miracle fruit, the sour tastes sweet, as if sugar has been added.

A natural chemical in the fruit masks the tongue’s sour taste buds so that lemons taste like lemonade or lemon pie, or lemon candy
The fruit has a unique taste changing glycoprotein that inhibits tastebuds’ perception of sour taste. The sweet sensation lasts for an hour or two.

The plant was discovered in West Africa, where the native diet revolved around a few basic foods, mostly of sour taste. Just imagine the delight of the people when someone ate a few red berries and later ate a meal of sour foods, to find everything suddenly sweet! The West African natives use the fruit to sweeten sour palm wine (beer) – Pito, and fermented maize bread – Kenkey.

This West African fruit oddity was botanically identified and named only as recently as the middle of the 19th century as Synsepalum dulcificum, a member of the Sapotaceae family, relative of the sapodilla (Manilkara zapota).

This small, evergreen shrub grows very slowly to a height of 4-6 ft in container, and 10-15 ft in natural habitat. Eventual size depends on where the plant is grown; a 10 years old plant might be easily only 4-5 feet tall. It forms an oval to pyramidal shaped bush or small tree.

Inconspicuous brown-and-white 1/2 inch flowers are followed by bright scarlet, 1 inch football-shaped fruit, sweet and pleasant tasting. Most of the fruit is taken up by a single large seed, but the pulp around it can be nibbled off and then for the next hour or so, anything one eats that is sour has a sweet flavor. The plant starts fruiting when only 1 ft tall. It produces fruit practically year around. In native habitat, two large crops are available yearly, each after a rainy season. The mature bushes usually have a few fruits hanging around all year. Seed to fruit in 2 to 3 years.

One of the many virtues of miracle fruit is its ease of cultivation.

It makes an excellent container tree, which gives it the added benefit of mobility. Since it is so easily containerized, almost anyone can grow this plant whether they have an outside planting area or not. Miracle fruit can be a rewarding indoor plant. It is not a fast growing plant, which is another benefit for those who would like to grow it in their house or greenhouse. It thrives under warm temperatures, and high humidity. A 10-inch plant is happy in a one-gallon pot. One that size will flower and fruit at least twice a year, probably more frequently.

If growing from seed, be prepared to wait for a few years until you can enjoy the first fruit. If possible, it is always recommended to get a mature full specimen, at least 1 ft tall, that is ready to bloom.

There are 2 known species of synsepalum that carry miracle fruits. Synsepalum dulcificum is a smaller-leaf version (leaves are narrow), and is somewhat slower growing plant. Synsepalum subcordatum (Giant Miracle Fruit) is a larger leaf variety, and grows into a small tree.

Miracle fruit is a natural, healthy and [considered] harmless sweetener! Due to its safety, it may have a great potential and practical use in everyday life and become a gift to humanity, a way to improve our diets and our health.
It is unfortunate that heat destroys the active principle, so that canning, jams, preserves, baking, drying, etc. are impossible. The fruits can be held for a short period of time by refrigeration or freezing.

The fruits themselves are of interest as a commercial source of artificial sweetener; however, large quantities of berries are needed to collect a substantial amount of the sweetener. The problem is how to increase the shelf life of the product. The berries are perishable, and once picked, last only a few days. Methods of shipment are not conducive to marketing the fruits and commercial cultivation of the plants was unsuccessful so far.
Miracle fruit is difficult plant to locate and is usually found only in a collector’s garden.

tradewinds fruit

Besides making sour foods taste better, Africa natives use the berry for medicinal purposes. Dr. Peter Oni of the Forestry Research Institute of Nigeria reports the fruit is given to reduce fevers and as a treatment for diabetes, malaria, piles, and acute coughs.

garden of delights

It is very interesting that when a pair of entrepreneurs tried to create a powder and tablet based on this natural fruit called miraculin in 1974, the FDA ruled it was a food additive, requiring years of testing. That effectively put the kibosh on hopes of any commercial use of it.

“Coincidentally” that was the same year the agency approved the deadly artificial sweetener aspartame.

The same thing has happened to a number of other natural sweeteners, such as Stevia.


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