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<b>Down South, Out West</b><br><i>Sir Bob Harvey’s son Fraser walks New Zealand’s Karekare<br>Photo by Dana Edmunds</i>
Vol. 17, no. 5
October/November 2014


Lemons to Lemonade 
Story by Larry Lieberman
Photo by Ryan T. Foley

It sounds like science fiction: Eat a small red berry and prepare to have your sensory experience transformed. The berry is not psychedelic, and it doesn’t give you super- human strength or X-ray vision. So what is the power of this strange little fruit? Synsepalum dulcificum, also known as “miracle fruit,” is a fleshy, coffee bean-size berry with an active ingredient called miraculin that transforms the body’s perception of sour and bitter into sweet. After eating a miracle berry, a wedge of sharp, tart lemon tastes like a piece of candy, pure lemon juice like sweet lemonade. Flavors are turned upside down for anywhere from half an hour to an hour.

Miracle fruit thrives in a tropical landscape; the plant originated in West Africa. In Hawai‘i the fruit can now be found growing on each of the major islands, though you’re not likely to find freshly harvested berries in the store—the best bet is at a farmers market or a tropical fruit farm or nursery. Frankie’s Nursery in Waimanalo is one of the few tropical fruit farms that sells berries when they’re available as well as the slow-growing miracle fruit plants themselves. Sam and Gail Nonaka, first-time customers at the nursery, are browsing a table of exotic fruits when master horticulturalist and nursery namesake Frank Sekiya offers them a sample. “Try this,” he says, offering a round of super-sour miniature limes. Next comes a round of fresh berries and after that the miracle: With their taste buds newly coated in miraculin, a second slice of the same sour lime now tastes explosively sweet. “It works!” exclaims Sam, all smiles.

The berry has become somewhat of a cult sensation; even The New York Times reported a few years back on “flavor-tripping parties” where guests marveled at the transformed taste of things like radishes and vinegar. For some the fruit offers perhaps an even better benefit: No spoonful of sugar is needed to help the medicine go down. “Our friend’s daughter had cancer, and the bitter taste of her medication would make her gag,” remembers Lynn Tsuruda, co- owner of Frankie’s. “But after eating miracle berries, she could swallow it no problem.”