• Synsepalm dulcificum – popularly known as 'miraculous berry' or the 'miracle fruit' - is native to Ghana. (Chris Beckworth)
The miracle berry from West Africa gets its name because when eaten, it causes sour foods to taste sweet. It may also help chemotherapy patients, who have lost their sense of taste, to enjoy eating food once again.
By
Yasmin Noone

14 May 2019 - 1:31 PM  UPDATED 23 May 2019 - 3:25 PM

This article contains general information only and does not recommend or endorse any particular treatment. It is not intended to replace the advice provided by your own doctor or medical or health professional. 


 

No doubt you’ve heard about a tonne of ancient superfoods claiming to work health miracles. But what about the miracle fruit, aptly named because of its ability to miraculously change the way you taste other foods?

Synsepalm dulcificum – popularly known as 'miraculous berry' or the 'miracle fruit' – is a fruit that hails from Ghana that was first documented by a French explorer in the early 1700s.

The red berry contains miraculin: a glycoprotein, which binds to the sweet taste receptors of your tongue. When the fleshy part of the berry is eaten, it makes all the acidic, bitter or sour foods you consume thereafter taste sweet.

When the fleshy part of the berry is eaten, it makes all the acidic, bitter or sour foods you consume thereafter taste sweet.

The berry was introduced in Taiwan about a decade ago. It’s now sold in many different forms – from fresh fruit to freeze-dried form – throughout Japan, Europe, USA and Australia.

Chris Beckwith grows a commercial crop of the miracle berry in Queensland.

“[The berries] have taste modifying properties so if you do eat one of these with anything sour or acidic it tastes incredibly sweet,” Beckwith tells SBS.

So how do you eat the miracle fruit to reap the best taste results? “You basically suck the skin off and suck the pulp.”

Any miraculous health benefits?

A study published in the journal Food Chemistry in 2014 shows that the miracle berry possesses health benefits as well as taste modification functions, as it’s very high in antioxidants.

The berry can help people who over-consume sugar and sugary products to cut back. It may also be used to accompany Chinese or Western medicine that tastes overly bitter or sour.

However, Beckwith says the real value of this berry lies in its ability to help people with dysgeusia: a condition that distorts your sense of taste. Dysgeusia is one of the most common side effects of chemotherapy.

“People who have dysgeusia [often] can't eat,” explains Beckwith. “Food tastes terrible or has a really bland taste or a metallic taste. It’s like eating grandma's old spoons,” he says. “By having miracle fruit [people with dysgeusia] are able to enjoy their food.”

“Arguably something like this could not only have a quality of life benefit but also a quantity of life benefit.”

A possible remedy for dysgeusia

Beckwith appears in the first episode of SBS’s new series, Medicine or Myth? touting the miracle fruit and the potentially life-changing benefits it could bring some chemotherapy patients.

The eight-week series, which starts on Monday 20 May, follows everyday Australians who pitch health remedies to a panel of medical experts in the hope that their alternative treatment will be selected for a real-world trial.

“I'm blown away,” says neurosurgeon and cancer specialist, Dr Charlie Teo, who leads the show’s expert panel. “I can see nothing but good things coming out of this. Many of these cancer patients [won’t eat] because of the terrible taste in their mouth, and because they won't eat, they lose strength.

“Arguably something like this could not only have a quality of life benefit but also a quantity of life benefit.”

Miraculin: tried and tested

Beckwith’s miracle berry was selected for trial in the show. It underwent testing to uncover the effect miraculin has on people with dysgeusia by an independent scientific team at the NICM Health Research Institute.

The study’s participants were people who had their taste severely compromised by chemotherapy. As part of the seven-day trial, the participants had one berry 15 minutes before each meal, three times a day.

The test found that 100 per cent of patients reported an improvement in their dysgeusia after taking the miracle berry.

“It's great, this is just more evidence that the miracle berry works and it's going to help a lot of lives,” Beckwith says.

The test found that 100 per cent of patients reported an improvement in their dysgeusia after taking the miracle berry.

Another pilot study, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology in 2016 also looked at whether the miracle fruit improves dysgeusia in chemotherapy patients. However, this time the patients in the trial took the berry for two weeks.

At baseline, the cancer patients complained of a metallic taste or no taste. The study showed that the miracle fruit stabilised taste in over 50 per cent of patients. The berry improved taste in 30 per cent of patients, while 35 per cent of participants thought the fruit was helpful.

The miracle fruit was deemed safe for use in patients undergoing chemotherapy.

Although these short-term tests are positive, more rigorous research is needed to conclusively prove that the miracle berry can relieve dysgeusia.

Are alternative remedies simply a myth or do they have a place alongside modern medicine? Medicine or Myth? follows everyday Australians as they pitch their diverse and sometimes divisive health remedies to a panel of medical experts, led by Dr Charlie Teo, in the hope of being selected for a real-world trial.

#MedicineorMyth eight-week series starts on Monday 20 May at 8.30 pm on SBS and SBS On Demand

Watch Episode 1 here

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