Q. After reading about miracle fruit in the New York Times, I had to have some. But the purveyor named in the article is backed up for weeks. Do you know of an alternate source?
When the New York Times ran an article about a fruit that makes sour, bitter foods taste delectable and sweet, I thought the paper of record had lost its collective mind. But the fruit is for real – and what's more, it's been known to the West for centuries.
Miracle fruit is the small red berry of the Synsepalum dulcificum plant, a west African shrub. The berry itself is tart and only vaguely sweet, but it contains a protein (called miraculin – you can't make this stuff up) that coats taste buds for several hours and makes everything you eat taste sweet.
The berries, which can be frozen or dried, typically cost about $2 each. Because they're expensive, and because the Times article sent demand skyrocketing, I think the best way to get your hands on miracle fruit might be to purchase a whole plant. Growing the plant from seeds takes too long – it won't bear fruit for several years. But whole plants are available from Top Tropicals online and will bear 20 to 30 fruits at least twice a year, starting the year after they're planted.
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Synsepalum dulcificum grows well indoors, but should be kept moist. The Web site recommends misting the plant twice a day and keeping it at a temperature of 75 to 85 degrees. Because the plant is slow-growing and small, it doesn't take up much space – a 10-inch plant can happily inhabit a 1-gallon pot.
A 5-inch Synsepalum dulcificum is $35 at Top Tropicals, www.toptrop icals.com.