A special berry may make it possible to eat healthy food that tastes like the junk food we crave. Homaro Cantu, a Chicago chef, is now employing the berry in pill form to play with the eating experience.
The West African miracle fruit, which is also called Synsepalum dulcificum, contains a protein known as miraculin, a form of sugar substitute that changes your taste buds for about half an hour.
Cantu came up with the idea after working with chemotherapy patients who were finding that their food tasted metallic due to their treatments. After providing the patients with the berry, they were able to enjoy their food once again.
“Imagine what it would be like if you couldn’t eat your food,” Cantu told Yahoo! News. “Physically you’re getting skinny, you’re losing weight. Psychologically, you’re worn out.”
Dr. Mike Cusnir, an oncologist at Mount Sinai Medical Center, has been researching the berry and whether it can help chemotherapy patients regain normal eating habits.
"What happens in patients is the food tastes so metallic and bland, it becomes repulsive," he told CNN. "Most of the patients undergoing chemotherapy have weight loss. Then they cut further into their diet and then this furthers the weight loss. It causes malnutrition, decreased function of the body and electrolyte imbalance."
Others who are on strict diets and weight loss plans eat the berry before downing bitter-tasting health smoothies or bland food that’s “good for you.”
The inventive chef is now hoping to take the miracle berry to the next level. Cantu hopes to open a bakery employing the berry in making healthy, sugarless pastries taste like their calorie-filled counterparts. He wants to make the fruit — which is already available to the public in both berry and pill form — a part of a healthy lifestyle, where people can actively decrease their calorie and sugar intake by popping a pill before eating a more nutritious alternative.
"Basically, in the future, we're going to be able to have all of our desserts and all of our junk food and it's actually going to be healthy for us," Cantu told Yahoo! News.
Others, however, are more cautious about praising the berry’s benefits. “Everyone’s immediate response is it’s an artificial sweetener, it’ll help you lose weight,” Linda Bartoshuk, a professor at the University of Florida’s Center for Smell and Taste, told CNN. “But the bad side is artificial sweeteners don’t help you lose weight. Any real claims for health benefits are going to have to be supported by good research.”
But Cantu still aims on making the fruit more popular through his experimental venues. He is no stranger to toying with food; the owner of two innovative Chicago restaurants, called Moto and iNG, is known to be both a cook and an inventor, as well as a molecular gastronomer.
iNG, which stands for Imagining New Gastronomy, is Cantu’s other restaurant, which describes itself on its website as “the worlds only restaurant to introduce the idea of flavor transformation into the dining experience. Simply put, flavors in our cuisine will change in depth and scope while dining…”
“I’m really focusing on the future of food which is paved with opportunities,” Cantu told Yahoo! News.