What Happens When You Invite a Group of Close Friends for Miracle Fruit and Alcohol?
I don’t have parties very often; it takes a major event in my life before I throw open the doors to more than a few people. That’s why a group of my foodie friends were surprised to get an invitation to a last minute gathering at my house a few weeks ago. Even more surprising, was what a strange party it became. I always try to be a good host with lots of things to nibble on to counteract the alcohol, but this time was different. We ate whole grapefruits, lemons and limes, poured Tabasco sauce and grapefruit bitters into each others mouths – and that was just the start. Yes, my friends were willing participants in a new craze that is sweeping the nation: “Flavor Tripping Parties”, courtesy of miracle fruit.
Miracle fruit isn’t terribly hard to get these days, though one has to be patient. I had ordered mine from a grower in Florida, and no one seemed to be sure exactly what day they would ship. We got an email late the night before they arrived, so I arranged the gathering pretty quickly. Some people had never heard of the berries, so it took a bit of explanation to get everyone on board. My mother called the next afternoon to ask what I was up to. “I’m getting ready for a miracle fruit party”, I said. Mom, who had thought I was finally walking the straight and narrow, paused for a moment to gather strength, before saying in a voice that only a 75-year-old grandmother can muster, “is that legal? I don’t want to bail you out of jail for pushing drugs!”
I assured her that I wasn’t going to be locked up for life, and explained that tasting parties are all the rage; the fruit is legal. Miracle fruit is a small red berry from a plant native to West Africa. When the fleshy part is eaten and coats the tongue, it tricks the taste buds, causing both bitter and sour foods to taste sweet. The effect lasts about an hour. It is very strange to bite into something you know will be sour, only to find it perfectly sweet. Once you realize what is happening, you can’t wait to experience as many tastes as possible, before the influence of the berry wears off.
Later that night, my friends showed up with bags of groceries. I had asked everyone to bring a few things that might be interesting to taste, especially items so bitter only an eight-year-old could love them. Along with their provisions, I had a wide variety of juices, lemons, limes, grapefruits, etc. I also shook up local bartender Lance Mayhew’s special miracle berry drink he calls Gemini’s Grace, and a rum drink called MiracleAde. We did a baseline tasting of Lance’s drink; surprisingly, some people liked it just as it was, but for me, it was too bitter. Then, as everyone gathered around, I passed the plump, red berries out of a little white shipping box. Someone giggled nervously. “This reminds me of college” jokes were made, and everyone started chewing.
The fruits themselves were pleasant, slightly tart with a large seed. We stood in a circle looking at each other, waiting to see if one of us would drop dead while chewing and rolling them around in our mouths. I wondered if my tongue would turn permanently red, which would make this story much more interesting, but to my disappointment, everything looked normal when I spit out the seed and looked at my reflection in a shot glass.
After a few minutes, we started our experiment. Though I didn’t feel any different, as soon as I took a sip of the control cocktail, I realized everything had changed. It now tasted so sweet, I couldn’t even drink it, though most people thought the once bitter brew was wonderful. I began cutting up lemons and limes. After a few cautious nibbles, my friends began grabbing them as quickly as I could slice the fruit. Everyone was blowing through them like they were bowls of candy; so sweet, almost sparkling in your mouth. “Gal Pal” Nancy Rommelmann put it best:
Do you know those half-moon jelly candies that are coated in sugar? The kind your great-aunt used to have in a cut-glass candy dish? For me, that’s what the citrus chunks became, but 1000 times better; they tasted like hunks of sweet-sour gel coated in sugar crystals; I ate about a whole lime and lemon each; they were completely different in taste, and if I had to choose only one, it might be the lime.
Soon we were hitting the selection of groceries like dorm mates with the munchies. Olives were unchanged; broccoli was terrible – it tasted like something from a swamp. Radicchio had an interesting, mellow, nutty taste. Balsamic vinegar was so sweet and full of depth we were passing it around, drinking out of the bottle. I had a basket of Hood strawberries that we drizzled with more vinegar. They were like sugar cubes; I couldn’t eat them. We moved on to various alcohols, digging some from the bottom of my Tales of the Cocktail swag. Pisco was smooth and fresh, tequila even smoother; to some people, it tasted more refined. A sip of absinthe was like velvet, though in a different way than you get from dripping it over a sugar cube. Canton ginger liquor was mostly unchanged, it just tasted like fresh ginger.
You’d think by now we’d all be falling down drunk, but we were just taking tiny sips out of a shot glass and passing it around. Getting ever more creative, I brought out a selection of bitters that were anything but, passing the bottles around for everyone to taste. Tabasco Sauce was smooth and sweet, with a long, hot finish; really strange. I’d read somewhere that it would taste like hot donut glaze; my friend Hillary agreed. The cheese was even stranger. First up was a Rivers Edge Chevre. It still tasted like cheese but had this strange, grassy sweet note, and a long tangy finish. As weird as it sounds, we inhaled it with big chunks of crusty baguette. Our variety of blue cheeses wasn’t so successful. A Roquefort Papillion was just too strange, like cheese candy. People nibbled, but most of it was left over for my lunch the next day. Our third cheese was a Ciressa Italian Taleggio. The effect of the miracle berries made the edge of each bite taste almost as though it had an ashy/toasty texture. Nancy said she doesn’t even like Taleggio that much but just kept eating it to experience the crunch. Someone had had the brilliant idea of bringing non-flavored frozen yogurt. The fruit offset the tanginess making it just slightly sweet. There was a dive for the cutlery drawer, and we stood in a circle, each with a spoon, passing the little container back and forth.
We went on for an hour, occasionally biting into a fresh lime to make sure we still had the effect. Every so often, someone would bring up an idea for the next party: pickles! Dark beer! Tonic water! Ever the practical joker, I proposed we invite two groups of friends next time, one to arrive 15 minutes before the second to take the berries without the other ones knowing about them. Can you imagine walking into a party and everyone is eating wedges of lemons?
After an hour, the effect of the berries wore off and we switched to gin and tonics. Someone mentioned they’d always wanted to play with a Wii video game, so the furniture was pushed back, and I lost control of the party. To the people in the building across the way, I’m sure we looked like we had a strange seizure disorder, lunging around the room as we went through an assortment of games, and a few more rounds of drinks. I sat back in amazement as some of my usually mellow friends like Nancy “Sigourney-Weaver” Rommelmann showed an unexpected aggressive, competitive side. Time past quickly, and it wasn’t long before people headed home. Overall, we all had a great evening.
That is the miracle of miracle fruit. Afterward, sitting and watching a late-night lightning storm crackling across the sky, I realized it wasn’t really about crazy tastes or fancy drinks. It’s about an excuse to bring old friends together, to laugh, to talk, to share a new experience and to bond.
Gemini’s Grace – Lance J. Mayhew, 50 Plates Restaurant, Portland, OR.
- 2 oz. Tequila Reposado
- 1 leaf sorrel, finely chopped
- Ice cubes
- 3 dashes grapefruit bitters
- 4 0z fresh grapefruit juice
In a shaker, muddle tequila, sorrel and ice cubes. Add bitters and grapefruit juice and shake vigorously. Pour contents of shaker into a glass, adding ice cubes as needed.