Part one of an extremely irregular series.
Product name: Mysterious Fruit Tablets Primary ingredient (as printed on box): Mysterious fruit powder
Really, the primary ingredient alone should’ve been enough to convince any sane and rational person to take a pass. And if that didn’t do it, then the fact that the Mysterious Fruit Tablets came by way of the Taiwan Panbiotic Laboratory would.
But I am not a sane or rational person. And neither is chef Ian Kleinman, who’d brought the pills to the Westword office (along with a crate of assorted fruits). He’d ordered them online from Taiwan. They’d come to his house through some distributor in Eastern Europe. And the last time I'd found myself standing at the sharp end of a business transaction like that -- open-mouthed, running my thumb along the edge of some scrap of foreign packaging, with a grinning chef saying, “Here, just put this in your mouth and let it melt on your tongue” -- it didn’t end well. Or at least I assume it didn’t. Honestly, I can’t really remember.
I trust Ian, though. I’ve eaten a lot of strange things at his suggestion, and he’s never offered me something that he hasn’t tried first. “It’ll fuck you up, man,” he’d written in one of his e-mails to me, trying to describe his magic pills. “Kind of like an acid trip,” his wife had said, but only for your mouth.
Now Ian popped a pill into my hand that I (along with a couple other willing guinea pigs from the office) obediently laid on my tongue and allowed to melt while he took a butcher’s saber to a bunch of unfortunate citrus. The pill (pinkish, dusty, unmarked) took time to melt, went from medicinally sour to sweet and back again while it did its thing. And as soon as it had dissolved, leaving no lingering jacket on my tongue, Ian handed me a wedge of lemon and said, “Eat.”
It was amazing. Tasted like the kind of super-sweet lemonade you buy from a kid on the street for a dime (provided you live in some kind of Norman Rockwell 1940s small town, that is), or like candy, hand-made, with real lemon oil and powerful sweeteners. The grapefruit (which I ate like an orange) tasted like the best grapefruit ever -- juicy and sweet, with sugar already poured onto the pink flesh. The magic pill made a fresh lime taste like lime Kool-Aid, plain old American Doritos taste like Mexican Doritos (which are sweeter, less tongue-curlingly chemical) and a totally crappy bottle of green apple wine I had sitting at my desk taste like…a totally crappy bottle of green apple wine. Good wine, according to Ian’s wife, will taste like excellent port when you’re tooled up on Mystery Fruit. A steak will come with a streak of caramelized sugar flavor, and chiles? You can just eat ‘em like candy without suffering any ill effects. Until later.
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The effects of the pill (which is actually made from a ground berry from the plant synsepalum dulcificum, aka “Miracle Fruit”) last only about fifteen or twenty minutes, but can be extended by using the pure powder. Which, of course, Ian has -- turning it into a gum that he serves as a final course on his molecular gastronomy tasting menus at O’s in Westminster, just to screw with people’s heads.
And Ian isn’t the only psychonaut getting in on the act. Cutting-edge chefs are starting to get hip to synsepalum dulcificum. On the coasts (mostly Manhattan and San Francisco), people are throwing “flavor tripping” parties where they get weird on miracle fruit and then…eat stuff.
As for me, I was happy enough just to be rewiring my taste buds on a random afternoon. It was an interesting experience, to be sure. And the coolest thing? Scientists who’ve investigated miracle fruit don’t really know how it works. There are theories, of course (that it reshapes the taste receptors on your tongue or confuses the chemical signals passing from your mouth to your brain), but there are no hard answers.
A miracle, indeed. -- Jason Sheehan