Freshly thawed miracle fruit (Synsepalum dulcificum).
Late last week, Torontoist had the chance to attend an exclusive tasting of the much sought-after, but until now relatively difficult to obtain, miracle fruit—the famous berry that, once ingested, makes sour and bitter foods taste sweet. The berry’s properties have been known to Western scientists since as early as the eighteenth century, but it has nevertheless kept a fairly low profile until the past few years when “flavour-tripping parties,” like the one we attended, started cropping up everywhere. In late 2008, the berries even made a cameo in an episode of CSI: NY where a flavour-tripper died after unknowingly drinking poison (this is TV; they actually aren’t that potent). Curious Toronto gastronauts will be happy to know they don’t need to wait any longer to get their fix.
The hosts of our party were newly engaged artists Tyler Clark Burke and Jeremy Stewart, who first heard about the berries from their friend Leslie Feist. “Adam Gollner, who wrote The Fruit Hunters, treated her to the berries as a surprise at a show last year,” Burke told us. “I’ve been dying to try them ever since, and Jeremy quickly realized I wasn’t alone.”
So, Burke and Stewart buckled down, pounded the virtual pavement, and found a suitable distributor that could help them bring the berries to Toronto. Their newly launched web site includes details about ordering, as well as coordinates for their upcoming Close Encounters: A Taste Tripping Party on Thursday, August 13 at The Drake Hotel (open to the public). The Drake party, with attendance capped at fifty, will be structured very similarly to the intimate gathering we attended at the couple’s Parkdale home.
Burke and Stewart source their miracle fruit from a grower in Florida who sends the berries overnight, packed in dry ice. They can be kept frozen for up to a month, but must be consumed within fifteen minutes of thawing lest they lose their potency. They don’t come cheap—especially in small quantities (twenty berries will run you a cool $100)—which adds a sense of occasion to their consumption.
And how was it? Depending on how well you coat your tongue with the fruit’s pulp, the effects can be pretty impressive. The most shocking moment was biting into a wedge of lemon that tasted like sweet, sweet lemonade. And yes, we did drink straight white vinegar. A word of caution, though: if you go to a flavour-tripping party, go easy. There is an excellent reason why we don’t make meals of lemon wedges, salt-and-vinegar chips, sour soothers, and tequila. Your stomach and throat hate you for the rest of the night, and, if you’re unlucky, for the next couple of days. Perhaps smuggle some white bread in your pocket when you go to The Drake.
Aside from the novelty of trying the berries, flavour-tripping parties are great fun as gatherings, especially with strangers. “I love experiences which really bring people together,” Burke told us. “When something catalyses a discussion amongst strangers, and suddenly all the walls fall, and everyone dives into an amazing shared experience.”
The Close Encounters party is now accepting reservations both online and by phone at 416-531-5042. Space is limited, so book early. Happy tripping, everyone.
All photos by Ayngelina Brogan/Torontoist.