Sunday, May 04, 2008

How to Berry the Miracle Sweetener

I heard something odd on the radio today. They were doing some sort of weekly news round up, and they mentioned a story about a "miracle berry".

Now the word "miracle" usually indicates the presence of both a power-hungry charlatan to initiate the news and a gullible fool to spread it, but I wondered if this was something different. So I looked up the story.

The search is always on for replacements for those things that, eaten in excess, make us obese - fatty and sugary foods. In the 1960s, Robert Harvey, a biomedical postgraduate student, encountered the miracle berry, a fruit from west Africa which turns sour tastes to sweet.

This completely natural product "can be used to manufacture sweet tasting foods without sugar or sweeteners". In reported tests: "miracle berry ice lollies, in four different flavours, were compared to similar, sugar-sweetened versions by schoolchildren in Boston. The berry won every time."

But on the eve of launch in 1974, the US Food and Drugs Administration "effectively banned it". Or to be more precise, as I read it, they reclassified it from natural product to food additive, a ruling which which would require many more years of testing.

The worrying thing would be if a combination of big sugar and artificial sweetener manufacturers deliberately conspired to prevent its release. The former vice president of the miracle berry company certainly thinks so: "I honestly believe that we were done in by some industrial interest that did not want to see us survive because we were a threat. Somebody influenced somebody in the FDA to cause the regulatory action that was taken against us."

Unlike the BBC article, I'm not yet convinced.

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