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Marveling At Miracle Fruit

Hallelujah, I’ve experienced a miracle — albeit a modest one.

It didn’t involve seeing Jesus on a tortilla or the Virgin Mary in a rust stain on the side of a building. No, my miracle involved a teeny-tiny red berry known as “miracle fruit.”

Haven’t heard the buzz on this fruit, Synsepalum dulcificum, that’s native to West Africa? Well, brothers and sisters, let me fill you in. I’ve been intrigued by the fruit ever since reading a New York Times story about it in May.

This small fruit purports to have an amazing effect when eaten: It changes the taste of anything you stick in your mouth afterwards, particularly things that are sour or bitter, leaving them seemingly sugary sweet.

Admittedly, I was more a curious skeptic than any kind of true believer. So when my friend, Elaine Villamin, winemaker at her family’s Eden Canyon Vineyards in Creston, Calif. (believed to be the only Filipino-American estate winery in the country) asked me to come to a miracle fruit event she was hosting last weekend, I jumped at the chance. Elaine planned to have attendees test the reaction of the fruit on her wines, as well as a variety of other foods, including Tabasco, white vinegar, pickles, Spam, and her homemade pot roast. Talk about a rather curious last supper.

The event was held at Periscope Cellars in Emeryville. Trivia fans will note that its warehouse area was the set for the first season of Bravo TV’s “Top Chef.” The Kenmore appliances are still there as proof.

About three dozen folks forked over $12 in hopes of having a miracle last Saturday afternoon. The seeds ($3 each and just a tad larger than pomegranate ones) were picked just a couple days ago in South Florida, where they are grown by Curtis Mozie who sells them through his Web site.

We were instructed to pop the seed into our mouth, to suck on the smidgen of pulp that’s pretty tasteless, then spit out the bitter seed. We also were told the effect of the protein, miraculin, would last about an hour. Then we made our way around the tables set up with condiments and foods, trying each with eager anticipation.

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