Synsepalum dulcificum, or the ‘miracle berry’, contains the protein Miraculin which suppresses sourness to draw out a sweet flavour.
It is known for its ability to make Guinness taste like chocolate milkshake and vinegar like sweet sherry.
But according to Brazilian researchers, it could have uses that go beyond this novelty factor and play an important role in reducing sugar consumption, particularly for sour beverages.
Writing in Appetite journal, the scientists from the University of Lavras in Brazil tested miracle fruit’s suitability as a sugar substitute, the researchers compared unsweetened lemonade as a control; lemonade with an ‘ideal’ amount of sugar (13.4%); lemonade sweetened with sucralose (0.022%) and 300 mg of miracle berry eaten before the unsweetened lemonade.
The amount of miracle berry had been established prior to the test in accordance with the producer recommendations and input form a focus group.
The 17 participants reported that eating 300 mg of miracle berry before drinking lemonade resulted in a sweet profile similar to that of sucrose.
“Miracle fruit performed in a manner similar to sugar and sucralose, reducing sourness in lemonade. Moreover, among the sweeteners used (sugar, sucralose and miracle fruit) after 15 seconds of lemonade ingestion, miracle fruit was the sweetener that reduced the intensity of lemonade sourness the most.”
“Through this study, we observed that miracle fruit seems to be a great sugar substitute in sour beverages, as it is a natural product that confers a sweet flavour and reduces sourness, besides presenting a sensory profile similar to sucralose.”
However there are two main drawbacks that currently hinder miraculin’s use as a sweetener.
The first is that it cannot be mixed with the product beforehand, and instead must be consumed before drinking the sugar-sweetened beverage, although its taste-modulating effect does occur immediately.
The second barrier is that, for a certain period of time, it changes the taste of all foods that are slightly sour afterwards.
“Although lemonade is sometimes consumed alone, it may be part of a meal in which other sour things (such as pickles) would have substantially changed flavour profiles. Therefore, future studies assessing consumer perceptions and regarding better sensory characterization of the effects of miracle fruit on different products should be carried out.”
The miracle berry is not the only fruit from Africa that has sweet potential.
Thaumatin is a sweet-tasting and flavour-modifying protein derived from Thaumatococcus daniellii, the fruit of a West African tropical plant.
It consists of a single chain of 207 amino acid residues and its sweetness, which can also only be perceived by humans and primates, is around 100,000 times sweeter than sucrose at a molar level.
It also masks bitterness which has seen it used in combination with stevia to rid steviol glycosides of their lingering liquorice-like aftertaste.
Thaumatin is approved for the European market for a range of foods including food flavourings, salt substitutes, soups, sauces and snacks, energy-reduced breakfast cereals, jams and jellies.
Source: Appetite Journal
“Miracle fruit: An alternative sugar substitute in sour beverages”
Published online ahead of print 13 September 2016, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2016.09.014
Authors: Jéssica Ferreira Rodrigues, Rafaela da Silva Andrade et al.