August 12, 2009

The obesity rescue berry?

Maybe you've heard of miraculin. I haven't. It's this little berry, resembles a cranberry apparently. You chew it up, get all of the pulp and seeds out, swirl around in your mouth, and dispense. Now put a lemon in your mouth. It will taste sweet. Miraculin makes anything acidic taste sweet. It's used for "flavor tripping parties" in the Big Apple and elsewhere.

Mr. Aliquo greeted new arrivals and took their $15 entrance fees. In return, he handed each one a single berry from his jacket pocket. ... He ushered his guests to a table piled with citrus wedges, cheeses, Brussels sprouts, mustard, vinegars, pickles, dark beers, strawberries and cheap tequila, which Mr. Aliquo promised would now taste like top-shelf PatrĂ³n.

But could it be used to combat obesity? Hmmm....

But with miraculin, would anyone be able to tell the difference between tofu pudding and creme brulee? Since it's nearly impossible to change someone's taste, perhaps what's needed to get Americans to eat better is literally to change their perception of taste.

Could miraculin really do that? Perhaps?

At the very least, some folks see a business opportunity.

Some companies have been attempting to create flavor-modulating compounds that mimic what miraculin does naturally. Two of those are Senomyx and RedPoint Bio, which are also developing bitterness blockers and exploring the pathways that translate to salty.

Both have partnered with or are in talks with food companies who are trying to reduce calories in their products by adding taste enhancers instead of sugars or sweeteners.

If these products reach a wider market, more and more patients might be eating foods with the same taste but just a fraction of the calories -- and they likely won't be able to tell the difference.

As this blog post points out, perhaps it could lead people to eat lower-calorie foods, but would it fill them up, or just lead to them still taking in as many calories as before by consuming more?

Paint me intrigued, but extremely skeptical.


marzipanmom said...

OR might eating this berry make us think that toxic substances, like say antifreeze, taste good instead of the protective mechanism in our bodies that make us instinctively not consume it...maybe just maybe people should just stop eating packaged, convenience, and fast foods and let their tastebuds know what real food tastes like! could that curb the obesity epidemic?

Fillippelli the (Wannabe) Cook said...

Ah, but stopping people from eating such foods would be extremely difficult. It's cheap and easy and, some of it at least, tastes good.

That said, I don't think anything like this berry or any related substance concocted by scientists will or could ever be a magic bullet for obesity.