Miracle fruit is an exotic tropical plant native to West Africa which produces red berries containing a substance which causes sour flavors like lemon and lime to taste sweet. The evergreen plant is sometimes grown decoratively, and is also usually featured in botanical collections because of its interesting properties. The miracle berry appears to lose its properties if stored or refrigerated, so the effects can only be enjoyed with fresh berries from the bush, although botanists are studying ways to capture the substance in the fruit.
Miracle fruit can be grown in Zones 10-11, and it is not at all frost tolerant. In areas where the temperature drops, the plant should be grown in a container so that it can be moved inside to a sunny spot near a window. It enjoys humid conditions and also prefers acidic soil, with a pH balance of 4.5 or above. When cultivated well, miracle fruit will grow to a height of approximately 12 feet (four meters), and will have dark green evergreen leaves with delicate that flowers which are produced year round. The miracle fruit berry is small, usually approximately one inch (three centimeters), and dark red in color. The bush tends to grow densely, and does not require pruning or training.
The Latin name for miracle fruit is Sideroxylon dulcificum, although it is also known as Synsepalum dulcificum daniell. In addition to growing in its native West Africa, it is also cultivated in parts of South America, Florida, Australia, and Hawaii. The almost magical substance in the berries of the miracle fruit is called Miraculin, and acts to cover the sour taste buds on the tongue for approximately two hours after being consumed. Any normally sour foods eaten while Miraculin is affecting the taste buds will taste sweet.
This curious property of the miracle fruit berry has led botanists to try and extract the substance for commercial use. It is thought that it could be used to sweeten foods for diabetics, or simply provide an interesting flavor experience. So far, these attempts have not been successful, and the plant is usually regarded as an ornamental curiosity, rather than a profitable plant, although West Africans have used the berry to make their food more interesting for centuries. Pediatricians with access to miracle fruit have also used the berries to help mask the taste of sour medicines for their patients.