The miracle fruit plant, Synsepalum dulcificum, is a bright red berry about the size of a coffee bean (
It’s indigenous to West and Central Africa, including the countries of Congo, Nigeria, and Ghana, and it’s gaining popularity across the globe for its taste-altering properties and potential medicinal benefits (
This article covers the uses of the miracle fruit plant, its possible health benefits, its side effects, and some safety precautions to keep in mind when consuming it.
Also known as miracle plant, plant berry, and red berry, the miracle fruit is aptly named. The berry is high in miraculin, a type of glycoprotein, which is a protein with sugar molecules attached to amino acids (
Miraculin binds to taste receptors that are near the sweet receptor sites in your mouth, sweetening the taste of sour or acidic foods, such as vinegar, lemons, pickles, and mustard (
These taste changes last for about 30 minutes, or until they’re diluted by saliva (
Miracle fruit is an African indigenous plant that derives its name from the miraculin-containing red berry, which can make sour and acidic foods taste sweeter.
Miraculin’s taste-altering properties make miracle fruit an attractive culinary and food manufacturing ingredient.
It contains an orange-red hue that can be used as a food coloring agent for sugar solutions and carbonated beverages (
While it doesn’t further sweeten foods that are already sweet, such as chocolate, in addition to making predominantly sour foods sweeter, it improves the flavor of less sour foods like tomatoes and strawberries (
Miraculin’s ability to mask sour flavors makes it an ideal low calorie replacement for sugar. It can be used in weight-management products (
In Ghana, the miracle fruit is used to sweeten sour foods and beverages, such as kenkey, koko, and palm wine (
Miraculin, a key component of the miracle fruit, enhances the color of some beverages and sweetens sour and acidic foods. This quality makes it an ideal ingredient for some uses in the food industry.
In some African countries, all parts of the miracle fruit plant — but particularly its leaves — play an essential role in traditional medicine.
In Benin, the leaves are used to treat diabetes, hyperthermia, and enuresis (bedwetting). In Nigeria, they’re used to help manage diabetes, asthma, and weight, as well as help treat cancer and male infertility (
In Tanzania and Malaysia, the leaves are used in postnatal care (
The root of the miracle fruit is used to treat tuberculosis and cough and increase sexual potency in Benin. Nigerians also use it to treat gonorrhea (
In Congo and Benin, the bark can be used to treat erectile dysfunction and alleviate symptoms of prostate diseases (
When chewed, the branches may act as a natural toothbrush (
Animal studies suggest that the miracle fruit plant may help reduce metabolic stress related to conditions like obesity, cancer, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes (
May help manage blood sugar levels
Studies in rats suggest that both the leaves and fruit of the plant may increase insulin production and sensitivity, thereby improving blood sugar management (
Rats treated with miracle fruit plant experienced improved blood sugar management and immune response.
In one study, rats with diabetes experienced greater improvements in blood sugar levels after receiving miracle fruit treatments than they did after receiving metformin, a drug commonly used in the treatment of diabetes (
That said, since these studies were conducted in animals, research in humans is needed before we can draw conclusions.
May help prevent cancer
Parts of the miracle fruit plant are rich in flavonoids and terpenoids, which may have cancer-preventing properties (
In vitro studies suggest that these antioxidants may reduce the spread of malignant cancer cells, including those in the colorectal area (
In addition, parts of the miracle fruit plant are rich in episyringaresinol, an antioxidant that slows the aging process and may help prevent skin cancer (
However, more human research is needed.
For individuals experiencing changes in taste due to chemotherapy, miraculin’s taste-altering properties may be leveraged to improve the taste of food. As such, it may help people eat more (
May help improve symptoms of gout
Laboratory and animal studies suggest that extracts of the miracle fruit plant may help improve blood uric acid levels, which can cause gout when they’re too high. Therefore, it may serve as a potential treatment for gout (
In fact, miracle fruit may help improve blood uric acid levels more efficiently than allopurinol, a drug commonly prescribed to treat gout (
One mouse study compared the effects of miracle fruit extract with those of allopurinol. Allopurinol comes with some side effects, such as renal toxicity, but the miracle fruit extract didn’t cause the same effects (
The miracle fruit extract lowered blood uric acid levels without affecting organs, such as the liver and kidneys, and did not show any signs of toxicity (
The researchers noted that it’s still unclear how miracle fruit achieves these effects and called for further research. Keep in mind that research is also needed to evaluate its efficacy in humans.
May act as an anticonvulsant
A controlled study investigating the anticonvulsant potential of miracle fruit suggested that antioxidant-rich parts of the seed may protect against death and reduce recovery time after a seizure (
Yet again, research in humans is needed.
In traditional African medicine, parts of the miracle fruit plant are used to treat a variety of conditions, including male infertility and cancer. Lab and animal studies suggest that extracts of the plant and fruit may help treat diabetes, cancer, seizures, and gout.
While miracle fruit plant has been used for generations in ethnomedicine, studies evaluating its effectiveness and toxicity are few and in the infancy stages. The majority of such studies were published in the last couple of decades (
Although miraculin is recognized as a food additive by the Japanese Ministry of Health and Welfare and classified as a novel or new food in the European Union, its use has yet to be approved in the United States (
With preliminary studies suggesting that extracts from the miracle fruit plant may reduce blood sugar levels, it should be used with caution in people at risk of experiencing low blood sugar levels, such as those with diabetes.
Miracle fruit plant, an indigenous plant from Central and West Africa, is prized for its ability to make sour and acidic foods taste sweeter.
Although it has been used to treat multiple conditions in traditional African medicine, research on its effectiveness and safety is still emerging.
Preliminary laboratory and animal studies suggest that it may improve insulin sensitivity and play a role in the treatment of multiple health problems, including diabetes, seizures, cancer, and gout.
However, more research in humans is needed before we can draw conclusions, and individuals with diabetes should use miracle fruit plant products and supplements with caution, as they may reduce blood sugar levels.
Just one thing
Try this today: The miracle fruit is just one of the many traditional African foods that may have healing properties. Consider learning about other African heritage foods like fonio.