FDA

Miracle Fruit Revisited

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My friend Jacob Grier hosted another Miracle Fruit party a few weeks ago. A Wall Street Journal reporter was there, and wrote up the story:

Within minutes of consuming the berries, guests were devouring lime wedges as if they were candy. Straight lemon juice went down like lemonade, and goat cheese tasted as if it was "covered in powdered sugar," said one astonished partygoer. A rich stout beer seemed "like a milkshake," said another.

I was there, too. And my second Miracle Fruit experience was even a little better than the first. Reporter Joanna Slater did a bit of digging on the regulatory hang-ups of the fruit, too:

Miracle fruit remains in a kind of regulatory limbo in the U.S. It's perfectly fine to grow and sell it, because the Food and Drug Administration doesn't require prior approval to sell fresh fruits, though it can intercede if it suspects problems. The trickier part comes when people try to use it as an additive in other foods. That's when regulators start asking questions.

Two American entrepreneurs, Robert Harvey and Don Emery, tried this route back in the 1970s but the venture ended in heartbreak. Their initial focus was on products for diabetics, but some of their financial backers, which included Reynolds Metals Co. and Barclays Bank PLC, had a loftier goal. "They were interested in replacing half the sugar industry in the world," Mr. Harvey says.

Mr. Harvey figured out how to turn miracle fruit into a dried powder and then a tablet. His company, Miralin Co., explored making everything from chewing gum to a miraculin-coated drinking straw. It developed recipes for diabetics which assumed people would pop a miracle-fruit tablet before eating the results.

Reynolds, now part of Alcoa, then owned the Eskimo Pie brand of frozen snacks and suggested trying miraculin-coated ice pops. In the summer of 1974, a group of Harvard Business School students conducted ice-pop taste tests on Boston playgrounds, giving children a choice between regular ice pops and miraculin-coated ones. The children preferred the latter by a wide margin, Mr. Harvey says.

That same year brought a big setback: The FDA sent a letter calling miraculin a "food additive" requiring years of testing. The letter effectively scuttled the venture, which was on the verge of selling products and wasn't prepared to spend money on extensive testing. Miralin filed for bankruptcy and fired 280 employees. It's only in the past five years that "I'm able about to laugh about this instead of crying," says Mr. Harvey, now 75 years old, who went on to a lucrative career making blood pumps used in heart surgery.

Grier has much more here. He also explains how you can order your own.

NEXT: Fred Thompson, DOA?

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  1. I’m a Miralin product veteran — my physiologic psych prof used it for demonstrations in a course on the physiologic psychology of perception & the senses — but also a veteran of employment in medical devices. Just seems that in going from a food additive to blood pumps, Robert Harvey went from the frying pan into the fire in terms of FDA regulation. Yet he was more successful in the fire. Maybe FDA will now take credit for having steered him to success and benefaction of mankind!

  2. Unfortunately, since the fruit must be grown indoors in most of the US, trying to grow your own could draw the suspicion of your AP-informed neighbors.

  3. Miracle fruit, then “spiked” brownies. Now that’s some good eatin’.

  4. No thanks, Radley. How long will it be after I buy “miracle fruit” that the guys in SWAT gear come to bust down my door?

  5. A rich stout beer seemed “like a milkshake,” said another.

    I wonder what it makes jizz taste like?

  6. If jizz were sour, that question would make sense. Quit talking about stuff you don’t know.

  7. A rich stout beer seemed “like a milkshake,” said another.

    Seems like a waste of a good beer.

    I’m dyin’ to try this stuff though.

  8. Quit talking about stuff you don’t know.

    Well, if I knew, then I wouldn’t’ve asked the question, would I?

  9. Leave it to me to find a problem with this fruit.

    This sounds like the Prozac of fruits. Making bitter and sour taste sweet kills the joys and experience of these flavors. Just as Seitz notes, a good stout shouldn’t taste like a milkshake. The best chocolate is the extremely dark variety with more than a little bitter flavor. Of course kids like it but they put ketchup on everything.

    Mandatory Libertarian disclaimer: you, of course have every right to try the fruit or its powdered extract…you wuss. But using this fruit as much more than a party trick or a way to take medicine sounds like a waste of good food.

  10. A rich stout beer seemed “like a milkshake,” said another.

    Err…doesn’t rich stout beer cost much more per unit volume than a milkshake? So why would you want to make the former taste like the latter?

  11. Sorry, I just hate when people pretend that they know about semen’s taste just because they saw the Menendez brothers miniseries. Cinnamon does NOT make it taste better.

  12. That’s got to be the oddest pet peeve I’ve heard of in a long time.

    But using this fruit as much more than a party trick or a way to take medicine sounds like a waste of good food.

    Well, yes. Using it on good food would be a waste. Why go to the trouble of making something that tastes good and then completely changing the taste? But on the other hand, if you use it on food that isn’t particularly good, or is at least bland, you could use low-carbohydrate foods to satisfy a craving for sweets with wasting anything important in the original flavor.

  13. Maybe because beer tastes gross, duh! Its only tolerable because it gets you buzzed, thats why no one drins non-alcoholic beer.

  14. IF YOU WANT TO TRY IT ORDER IT!! There is no FDA in CANADA. You get it on the net, also from ebay.

  15. Am I the only one that thinks a stout should taste like a stout and goat cheese should taste like goat cheese? Goat cheese is tasty, as is Murphy’s.

  16. If jizz were sour, that question would make sense. Quit talking about stuff you don’t know

    Still, this sounds like something that should be explored. Google yields little meaningful information on the subject.

  17. thats why no one drins[sic] non-alcoholic beer.

    No, no one drinks non-alcoholic beer because non-alcoholic “beer” doesn’t taste like beer.

  18. Am I the only one that thinks a stout should taste like a stout and goat cheese should taste like goat cheese? Goat cheese is tasty, as is Murphy’s.

    No, you’re not.

    mmmm…Young’s Chocolate Stout…..aaaarrrrrrr

  19. Brooklyn Brewery makes an amazing chocolate stout. Not available in all states due to alcohol content, though.

  20. “This sounds like the Prozac of fruits. Making bitter and sour taste sweet kills the joys and experience of these flavors.”

    It doesn’t work that way. The other tastes are still there. It makes lemons taste like lemonade.

  21. Non-alcoholic beer isn’t bad, it’s just sort of useless. It tastes at least as much like beer as Busweiser, but it hydrates you instead of dehydrates. Like if you’re mowing the lawn on a really hot day and you’re dying for a cold one, you have a near-beer as your first, you just feel so much better than if you’d had a real beer. But then you have to have a real beer.

    I used to do this when my dad had it in the house. Not too bad.

  22. Actually, joe, I was exaggerating some.

    You’re quite right, there are a couple of NA beers that come very close to the taste of the real thing. You have to pay a little more but that is true of real beer too.

  23. It tastes at least as much like beer as Busweiser

    Which is to say, not very much…

  24. Well, if that girl on Fear Factor is to be believed, semen probably tastes like raw bull testicles.

    (From the funniest moment ever on TV. The Fear Factor challenge was to eat two bull testicles. The girl took one bite and said, “It tastes exactly like I thought it would!”)

  25. Brooklyn Brewery makes an amazing chocolate stout. Not available in all states due to alcohol content, though.

    Derrick,

    You should check out Young’s. Draft is super hard to find in the US but I prefer the 500 ml bottles. Rogue does a Dub-Choc too.

  26. Gang of Four, Damaged Goods (live)

    Your kiss so sweet
    Your sweat so sour

  27. Has anyone thought about making edible undapants out of miraculin? Perhaps that would help the gentlemen in their…ahem, connubial duties.

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