Tag Archives: West Africa

My Miraculin Immunity

-Sam Katzman

Imagine ingesting something with the ability to confuse your taste buds so radically that they can’t distinguish a bite of a tart lemon from sweetened lemonade. A substance with such far-fetched qualities it could only be conjured by the mind of Willy Wonka. Contrary to popular belief, inducing this hallucination of the taste receptors is possible.

Synsepalum dulcificum, otherwise known as the miracle fruit, has become a popular novelty among curious “flavor-trippers,” earning its namesake from its high miraculin content.

Found in the tiny red berries of this indigenous West African plant, miraculin is a glycoprotein notorious for amplifying sweet sensations on the palate.

Miracle berries have been used to spruce up the taste of meals since before being first noted by explorers in the early 1700s. However, new trends have evolved incorporating miraculin in party atmospheres. This FDA classified “food additive” exploded in popularity in the twenty-first century due to its glorified social appeal.

Flavor tripping parties are a growing phenomenon among all age groups. Guests at these events typically pitch collectively to purchase the taste bud twisting berries, while out of the ordinary snacks are usually provided by the host.

Taste receptors under the influence of miraculin have been known to fool some into mistaking goats cheese for cake icing and passing Guinness beer as a chocolate shake. According to miracleberry.wordpress.com, drinking straight Tabasco sauce is “delicious” but the website also advises, “don’t drink too much.”

Naturally after being reassured I wouldn’t be harming my body or breaking the law by consuming these things, I was curious to try the experiment myself. So I chose to join the flavor-tripping revolution and purchased some berries of my own online.

Twenty dollars less in my wallet and a week of anticipation later, I placed one miracle fruit tablet on my tongue –meanwhile my sense of taste was preparing for its first psychedelic experience. Expecting a flurry of foreign, delicious flavors to invade my mouth, I was surprised to notice everything tasting so overwhelmingly . . . normal.

I could be a freak of nature, but nothing tasted unusual despite conducting three taste-tripping trials.

My dreams of sipping hot sauce from the bottle, with the aid of a little performance-enhancing berry, were in vain.  Tabasco still had its fiery sting even with a dissolved miracle berry tablet coating each of my taste receptors.

I have heard enough testimonials to buy in to the validity of the miracle fruit, but as I reflect on my experience I’m disappointed and confused about why I’m apparently immune to miraculin.

Flavor-tripping might have failed for me, but this glycoprotein is scientifically proven to influence people varyingly. If you’re feeling too lazy to take the lemons you’re given and make lemonade, allow me to introduce synsepalum dulcificum as a more convenient alternative.

A Wearable Work of Art

photo courtesy of Dorothy Bayurn

-Hannah Doyle

It’s that time of year when the leaves are starting to change color and those in the Northwest are rudely reminded to swap their sandals for rain boots by the sudden shift in weather. It is the month of October and in addition to the change in seasons, the month also marks the celebration of Halloween. Halloween is an opportunity to take on a different persona, and is the only time of year where it is socially acceptable to walk around wearing a mask.

In many cultures around the globe, wearing a mask is far more meaningful than dressing up and scaring others. Masks have been used for spiritual expression, to show respect to ancestors, and to communicate status. Their uses have proved valuable even in the modern world, where there are surgical masks and facemasks attached to football helmets. Masks are one of the oldest accessories that have been in use throughout the course of humanity.

The Museum of Natural and Cultural History currently has an exhibit showcasing masks from parts of the globe that explain their historical significance and relation to today’s culture. The masks on display are a handful from the Museum’s anthropological collection, where hundreds of them are stored in their in-house vault. The masks showcased are from North America, West Africa, and Oceania. They vary in material based on the parts of the world that they were made. For example, North American masks are made of wood and feathers, while masks from Oceania are made of clay, grass, and cowry shells. African masks are made of netting, wood, and bronze. Masks were commonly used to tell stories. The Bear (pictured above), a mask made by the Hamat’sa society from the North West Coast, was used to tell the story of a young man possessed by a dreaded spirit. While some were made for tribal dances, others were made for food. Masks were used to cover yams to convey the spirit of ancestors in Papua New Guinea.

The rich history of masks can give a new meaning and significance to Halloween and might even be a source of inspiration for a costume. The exhibit is on display until December 31st. For those who can’t wait to dress up for Halloween, the Museum is having a Masquerade Family Day October 22nd where there will be live music, a costume parade, and an opportunity to decorate a mask.