Miracle Berries: More Fun Than Licking Toads

Not that I’d know.

Have you heard of miracle fruit?  I hadn’t until Jenny at I’m Never Full introduced the rest of the Houston Chowhounds to this arcane bit of nature.  She wrote an entry on the mysterious fruit, describing them as “trippy berries” that will “change your tastebuds for 30 mins to an hour and cause sour and bitter foods to taste sweet.”  Foodies everywhere have begun hosting events called — appropriately enough — “flavor tripping parties” to explore the tongue-altering properties of this tiny berry.  Think of it as legal shrooming…for your mouth.

The miracle fruit was first discovered by Europeans in West Africa in the 18th century, where it was noted that the local tribes picked and ate the berry — which is in the same family of tropical flowering plants that produces shea butter and star apples — before their meals.  Considering the fact that West African tribal diets consisted mainly of yams, seeds, chili paste, millet, and sorghum, I imagine that the flavor-altering properties of the miracle fruit were quite welcome for an occasional change of pace.

The miracle fruit works its magic by releasing a glycoprotein molecule (similar to a monosaccharide) called miraculin when eaten.  Those molecules bind to your tongue and alter the way that your tastebuds’ receptors react to acidic or sour foods.  As a result, sour and/or acidic foods taste sweet.  This effect lasts for up to an hour after consuming miracle fruit.

Miracle fruit isn’t a sweet in and of itself — that is, it doesn’t taste sweet — but researchers have been trying for decades to establish it as a sweetener or flavor additive in foods.  Think about it: people would no longer be dependent upon such unhealthy sweeteners as white sugar or high-fructose corn syrup.  Rates of obesity and diabetes could sharply decline as we cut those things out of our diets.  You could make lemonade or limeade with no sugar at all; eat a tart grapefruit without dousing it in honey first; or enjoy a rhubarb pie without a side of strawberry ice cream to cut the sourness of the rhubarb (well, actually, I’d still do that…I will never give up my rhubarb pie with ice cream).  All you would have to do is eat one miracle berry first.

So what’s the holdup?  Temperatures over 100° F unfortunately destroy the miraculin compound, so it can’t be used in baking or canning or any other activity involving the application of heat.  Fresh berries can be frozen or refrigerated for a few days, but don’t keep for very long.  The best method for preserving the miraculin so far has been through a powdered concentrate of the berries, but the FDA denied its approval as a food additive in the 1970s.  It’s not that the powder was unsafe, mind you; powerful corn and sugar lobbies simply prevented it from being approved as it threatened their very existence (as you can well imagine).

Until developers come up with a means of production available to the masses (and until lobbyists stop controlling our government, which should be right around the same time you can buy popsicles in hell), you only have a few options for trying this fascinating fruit.  You can purchase a plant and harvest its berries yourself, as Jenny did.  You can order a shipment of berries from a supplier for about $2 per berry.  Or you can attend one of the “flavor tripping” parties that have become so popular.

Houston Chowhounds will be hosting such an event in the coming months.  For more information (and to become a member of a great foodie community!), check out the group at our website:  Houston Chowhounds.  While a place and time haven’t yet been established, our order of miracle berries is on its way to our trusty head Hound.

You know you want to try them…

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Tuesday Trivia, Part Deuxsie

Hey, hey, hey!  It’s that day of the week again, and this time I’m not letting it pass us by.

Today’s round of trivia is brought to you by The Moody Blues and their eternally cool ballad, “Tuesday Afternoon.”  Trivia questions begin after the video…

And now onto the questions:

  1. Which came first: the chicken or the egg?*
  2. What famous beverage was invented by a Benedictine monk named Pierre?
  3. The asparagus, leek, and onion all belong to which plant family?
  4. Which of these things is not like the other?  Peas, mung beans, lentils, castor beans.
  5. Name the three principal emulsified sauces.
  6. BONUS:  Which of these emulsified sauces is made using ingredients at room temperature?

That’s it, folks!  Good night and good luck.

*I’m quite serious about this.  There is an actual, scientific answer to this conundrum.

Thursday Answers

Welcome back, friends!  Let’s not waste time dilly-dallying around, shall we?  I know you all came here for two things only this afternoon: answers and a winner.  So here we go!

The answers to Tuesday’s trivia questions:

  1. Honey.  Jars of edible honey have been found in 3,000-year-old Egyptian tombs.  They certainly knew how to preserve things…
  2. Almonds.  The other favorite sauce-thickener prior to the introduction of wheat flour was torn pieces of dense bread.  Yum!
  3. 20,000,000 pounds.  Yes, 20 million pounds — believe it or not, tea importation exponentially exploded to 1,000 times the amount that England was importing only a century earlier.  Not everyone was pleased with this change, particularly barkeepers.  One notable writer decried that “…tea has no useful strength in it; that it contains nothing nutritious; that, besides being good for nothing, has badness in it…”  Ah, what perspective time and science can lend.
  4. Water, carbohydrates, proteins and liquids.  Look at all of you clever things with your carefully-memorized copies of On Food And Cooking!
  5. 2,000 B.C. in India.
  6. 9,000 B.C. in the Middle East, which leads to Richard’s eternal question: why on earth is chicken more popular than lamb in the United States?  Sheep have certainly got the time advantage.  Anyone?

And this week’s winner is: croquecamille, narrowly edging out Pooh!  Huzzah, croquecamille!  Honorable mention goes to Cory for making me expel fluids through my nose and Jo for correctly identifying Harold McGee as this week’s inspiration.

Folks, if you haven’t read croquecamille’s blog, I highly encourage it.  She is a pastry chef who voluntarily transplanted herself to Paris along with her husband.  Her blog chronicles her adventures (both culinary and otherwise) in her new home.  In her own words:

In this blog I intend to chronicle my dining, cooking, and general food-related adventures in my new hometown: Paris, France.  Of course I may digress now and then, but if you’re into vicarious eating, you’ve come to the right place!

I am a pastry chef by trade and a lover of food and travel by disposition.  As such, my husband and I decided to uproot ourselves and become expats for a while.  So far, it has been a daily adventure.  There are things we miss (Mexican food, chicken-fried anything, a decent cheeseburger) and things we can’t get enough of (amazing bread, fresh croissants, plentiful duck, lait cru cheese).

So, go and check out this week’s winner and enjoy her luscious blog.  Stay tuned for next week’s edition of Tuesday Trivia on June 9th.  Thanks to everyone who played along this time!

Wherein I Suck Up to the Admins

I’m not the only one whose office breakroom is decorated with awesome notes:

Waterloo’s Dirty Little Secret

It’s true: record stores are actually filthier than you ever imagined.

The difference here is that mrcanacorn got a $10 gift certificate to clean the pigpen at his office; our admin assistants get nothing but thinly-veiled scorn — from everyone but me.  I love you, admins!  You make our breakroom smell like lemons and elbow grease!

Tuesday Trivia

Inspired partly by two of my favorite things (Swamplot’s weekly Neighborhood Guessing Game and Ashford Pub’s weekly Tuesday Night Trivia), I’ve decided that henceforth — I love that word — we will be having weekly food trivia on she eats.!

Here’s how it works:

Each Tuesday afternoon, I’ll post five food trivia questions and one bonus question, relating to at least one of the original five.  You highly-intelligent foodies out there will post your answers/guesses/wild stabs in the comments section below.

Each Thursday afternoon, I’ll post the answers to the questions.  The winner each week will live in infamy forever.  Or something like that.  I’m currently trying to think of a better prize, so if you have suggestions — that don’t involve money or honor killings, people! — let me know.

Are you ready?  I said, ARE YOU READY?!?!?  Then let’s get to it!

Tuesday Trivia Round 1:

  1. What foodstuff, if stored properly, will never spoil?
  2. The flour of what nut was used as a thickening agent in sauces prior to the now-prevalent wheat flour?
  3. In 1700, England was importing 20,000 pounds of tea per year.  By 1800, that figure had grown to ________ pounds.
  4. What are the four basic food molecules?
  5. Around what time were chickens first domesticated?
  6. BONUS:  And around what time were sheep first domisticated?

That’s it, my little barn swallows.  On your mark, get set, answer!

All I Have, I Owe to Pork Skin

I was feeling utterly miserable yesterday morning.  I had woken up with a fierce stomachache that felt like a thousand tiny knives in my gut.  I couldn’t figure out what would have caused it.  I hadn’t eaten anything strange (well, strange for me) or out-of-date or off-temp lately.  I swigged some Pepto and went about my day, trying to ignore the stabbing pains in my belly.

As the day dragged on, so did the pain.  It didn’t get any worse, just more irritating.  I kept waiting for it to go away or even just subside a bit.  The Pepto wasn’t doing anything and I didn’t have anything else at work to fall back on (ginger, for example, works miracles).  I drank bottle after bottle of water, trying to flush my system out, but without any luck.

Stomachaches — unrelenting ones, at least — are a rarity for me.  My family all has the stomachs of billy goats, cast-iron guts that can withstand food that would make a vulture sick.  True story:  I once drank the tap water in Mexico for a week straight before one of my friends caught me one day and bawled me out for being so stupid.  We weren’t in an “industrialized” area, either, all the more for her to fear that I was going to catch some deadly parasite and die from a horrific form of diarrhea.  Never happened; I was perfectly fine.

As lunchtime rolled around, our temp asked if I’d like to go grab some tacos at Guadalajara Bakery.  As miserable as I was, tacos were the last thing I wanted.  That’s when you know I’m really sick…  I politely declined and instead force-fed myself a simple salad that I hoped would clean me out.  …nope.

When he returned some time later, the temp had brought me some tacos despite my earlier protests.  Bless him.  They looked so good, with their homemade tortillas and neon green salsa verde.  “Your favorite!” he said.  “Chicharrónes!”  The soft, spongy chicharrónes stared up at me from their tortillas.  They looked like inviting little pillows.  Despite the horrible pain in my stomach, I couldn’t help myself.  I tore into them with abandon.

After quickly inhaling the tacos, I realized that within about five minutes my stomachache was completely gone.  I felt like a new person; like my stomach had been reborn.  It was a divinely-inspired, chicharrón-manifested miracle.

So here’s my new marketing strategy…  Forget about Pepto-Bismol, forget about milk of magnesia, forget about Tums, forget about ginger, even!  There’s only one guaranteed cure:

When your stomach hurts and you don’t know what’s wrong, try a bite of chicharrón!

See?  It even rhymes.  I’m going to make a fortune, people…

The Zythophile

I think I have a new favorite foodie blog (well, more like ale and lager blog, but let’s not split hairs):

The Zythophile

Read, for instance, this fascinating post on the spurious history behind the “traditional” ploughman’s lunch served in pubs the world over.  I feel seriously vindicated now, as I never liked the pissant little bits of lettuce and cheese and pickle that comprised a ploughman’s lunch anyway, and always wondered how that rabbit food could be considered substantial or hearty enough for a field laborer to eat for lunch.

Also awesome: Fraudulent Ale Questions, where the author debunks various myths about beer, including some myths that I’ve never even heard of, such as:

Medieval ale-conners wore leather breeches and tested ale by pouring some on a wooden bench and then sitting in it and seeing if they stuck to the bench.

Apparently quite false.  Who knew?

And, of course, there’s a short but sweet section on the underappreciated art of beer and food pairing.

The beer snob in me has found a new home, folks!