The Great British Baking Show: Walton Edition, Episode 17 – Miracle Berries Week

Welcome once again, my friends, to The Great British Baking Show: Walton Edition! This week we traded our oven mitts for lab coats as we turned to the weird world of organic chemistry to see what would happen when we altered the way our taste buds worked. The results, I assure you, were fascinating! Join us now as we dive into Miracle Berries Week!

PREMISE

Before agreeing to the experiment, we discussed miracle berries and how they function, which I think is the minimum one should do when conducting an experiment on one’s self and loved ones. What we learned from Mark, who was the only one of us who had tried them prior to the experiment, is that the berries contain a protein called miraculin which temporarily binds to the sweetness receptors in taste buds. When exposed to acids, which normally taste sour, miraculin activates the sweetness receptors to which it is bound. This has the effect causing foods normally perceived as sour to be perceived as sweet.

PREDICTIONS

I cannot speak for the other bakers, but I was dubious. The effect, I assumed, would be slight. Measurable, possibly, but certainly not as miraculous as the berry’s name implies.

EQUIPMENT & PERSONNEL

We each went shopping to provide the group with whatever we thought might benefit from sweetening. In an effort to reduce duplicate entries, I asked Dan what he and Mandy were bringing and got this inexplicable response:

My ridicule of his curmudgeonliness having achieved it’s desired effect, I made my way to La Maison Mizer where the bakers pooled our experimental foodstuffs. We each tried a sample of every food available (except where noted) and wrote down our opinions.

Notes: Before I reveal the results, it is worth noting that Dan’s handwriting has undergone a mysterious transformation. As Dan ages his writing becomes less legible. This in itself is not unusual; I noted the same phenomenon in my grandparents as they aged, and now I see it happening to my parents and myself. Being members of the first generation for whom typing largely supplanted handwriting in high school, I would normally give all of us bakers some leeway where legibility is concerned.

But Dan’s handwriting is also shrinking. Where my parents and grandparents – and now I, I reluctantly admit – started taking up more space on the page, Dan’s handwriting seems to be shifting rapidly toward the microscopic. I often have no idea what he’s trying to convey. In many cases I struggle to even see the writing. And if he writes in pencil, just forget about it. It’s like trying to read smoke signals in a hurricane. Sloppy translation has been the downfall of many an endeavor, so instead of guessing what Dan’s glyphs may have meant and potentially inserting my own bias, I’m going to do my best to recreate what I see on the page using the full compliment of symbols, entities, and typography elements in the HTML/XML Unicode character set. I’ll leave the interpretation to my audience. Best of luck to us all.

PROCEDURE

Each of us placed one miracle berry pill in our mouth and let it dissolve for approximately five minutes, being sure to move it over the entire surface of our tongue to allow for maximum miraculin adhesion. After five minutes we began the taste tests. Each of us took a sample of the same food and tasted simultaneously.

Black Coffee (Maxwell House)

Mark: removes bitterness
Mandy: still bitter… like your mom
Chris: the ghost of coffee
Dan: Shll hɩshI biHon likᴇ my souL

Black Plums

Mark: sweet, no tart
Mandy: very much like apple
Chris: not much change
Dan: voıy SѠEᲾST alмost epꞁıᴇ LıḰƸ

Blackberries

Mark: blackberry pie
Mandy: very sweet
Chris: super sweet
Dan: blackboy Jam —

Raspberries

Mark: like jam
Mandy: like a raspberry glaze
Chris: JAM!
Dan: raspbary Jam –

Bottled Lemon Juice

Mark: so sweet
Mandy: really good pink lemonade
Chris: less sweet lemonade
Dan: L₆ₑₑuNѦDE w|targ-

Bottled Lime Juice

Mark: lime syrup
Mandy: lime syrup, tastes like medicine
Chris: sweet chemical lime
Dan: Lıмᴇ syrup –

Celery

Mark: Ø
Mandy: like celery
Chris: nothing
Dan: ٨O C|hѧrCE

Cream Cheese

Mark: cheese cake
Mandy: like cheesecake – more like cream cheese
Chris: nothing
Dan: C|ⱵₒⱿẟE up FRewr └ nomme at bacΛₑ of twoat –

Dill Pickles (Oh Snap! Dilly Bites)

Mark: sweet pickles
Mandy: very sweet, like candy
Chris: less sugar bread and butter pickles
Dan: Losꭚ targ

Notes: This is the second time Dan referenced targs, aggressive alien mammals that Klingons keep as pets. But that’s not what makes this entry remarkable. The really interesting thing here is the letter in Dan’s writing I’ve represented with “ꭚ”. It is an unlabeled glyph from the ʼPhags-pa block of the Unicode character set. ʼPhags-pa is an alphabet designed by order of Kublai Khan, founder of the Chinese Yuan dynasty and was only used for roughly a hundred years. It fell out of use with the advent of the Ming dynasty in the late 1300s.

Gold Peak Unsweetened Tea

Mark: slightly sweet
Mandy: just a little sweet. Still bitter.
Chris: slightly sweet tea
Dan: SLightly Sꙇᴇꭈт oᵫD TEVⱵ

Granny Smith Apples

Mark: so sweet
Mandy: very good & sweet
Chris: mellow, sweet red apple
Dan: RoD DELIciouJS ȹplϵ

Grapefruit

Mark: wow
Mandy: very sweet & juicy
Chris: surprisingly ok
Dan: SwEĒT – tolsablE

Guinness Extra Stout

Mark: no change
Mandy: still tastes like rotten ass
Chris: less nasty Guinness
Dan: nuuTED Plack

Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale

Mark: good – removes bitterness
Mandy: not bad. No bitterness. Drinkable.
Chris: if beer tasted like water
Dan: ɮgʌ̵ѡ – IUO ßɩHⴃNESS

Lemons

Mark: wow!
Mandy: lemonade – made tummy hurt
Chris: FUCKING AMAZING!
Dan: sʮro⌐ Lomﺳ؄DE

Notes: With the miracle berries, lemon retains its unique citrus flavor but with every trace of sourness removed, resulting in a taste unlike any lemon based recipe I’ve ever encountered. Not only was lemon my favorite flavor of the experiment, it is one of the best flavors I have ever tasted in my life. I had to stop myself at half a lemon because I was afraid I would eat them until I was sick or the citric acid had damaged the enamel on my teeth.

Limes

Mark: orange?
Mandy: tasted like orange
Chris: tastes like oranges!
Dan: LiruoNΛDE

Oranges

Mark: wow
Mandy: very sweet, like orange juice
Chris: mellow orange flavor
Dan: MEUoɩE Oɺ SωEETNESS

Parmigiano-Reggiano

Mark: sweet
Mandy: YUCK!
Chris: no change
Dan: Vay sʅguuy —

Pepperoncini

Mark: very sweet
Mandy: PASS!
Chris: unpleasantly sweet
Dan: [no entry recorded]

Notes: Due to his ongoing difficulties with acid reflux, we all agreed it was best that Dan not participate in this phase of the experiment.

Pomegranate Juice

Mark: super sweet
Mandy: sweeter than a June berry in July
Chris: flavor is almost gone and it’s pure sweetness
Dan: pӎ≤ sꭎᴱETΛE3S fℓwar akwost 6ONE –

Rice Vinegar

Mark: so sweet, good!
Mandy: very sweet but still like vinegar
Chris: sweet vinaigrette
Dan: ta SꭚꭌӠ мıch SUEETAR ϞkE A viʌcgrAITE

Sour Patch Kids

Mark (blue): cotton candy
Mandy (red): still a little sour but not as bad as normal
Chris (green): lime jelly bean with sourness
Dan (red): sⱵiǁ sav bյt ʌot as bacl- a lʌiʌt ət coltau cꜷcly

Sriracha

Mark: still hot
Mandy: still very hot, needed ceam cheese to tamper down
Chris: sweeter, but hot and almost unchanged
Dan: ٨O CUѧgԐ

Tequila (Jose Cuervo Especial Silver)

Mark: no after taste
Mandy: WHORE-ABLE
Chris: less awful
Dan: M~TeD but SⱵll کross

Unsweetened Cranberry Juice

Mark: super sweet cranberry
Mandy: very sweet. Teeth felt a bit puckerish.
Chris: still a bit tart but much more palatable
Dan: nuch SѠEꜮ͞TER – ơꙆy linɬ of tσrt –

Unsweetened Pink Grapefruit Juice

Mark: so sweet ☹
Mandy: no taste. Not good.
Chris: sweetened grapefruit
Dan: Su⅌cK SωEET- – no dishit fℓa⦸R –

Unsweetened Tart Cherry Juice

Mark: cherry juice pie
Mandy: like Luden’s cough drop
Chris: AMAZING! Like grandma’s cherry cobbler
Dan: Chnпy pιშ

Vanilla Porter

Mark: very mild
Mandy: very much like Bud Light
Chris: Bud Light with vanilla cream
Dan: ᴧo bιⱶtamᴇss – SꙆyկꝉy SuᴇÉΓ

Watermelon

Mark: no change
Mandy: no change
Chris: no change
Dan: յo RᲾAL C|hMɅ6E

White Grapes

Mark: [no entry recorded]
Mandy: too sweet… like your dad.
Chris: like a distant grape
Dan: V⧄ϰʏ SևE⊏⟌

Notes: For clarification, the square shaped symbol you see above is not one of Microsoft’s “square box” glyphs. Those are usually displayed as the result of missing fonts or encoding issues. The character you see is a legitimate character called a Squared Rising Diagonal Slash, and it is the closest thing I could find to match Dan’s alien handwriting. I have known Dan for around 30 years and I can attest with almost 83.5% certainty that he is from Earth. Whomever taught him to write, however, is almost certainly an extraterrestrial.

Yellow Mustard

Mark: sweet mustard
Mandy: still get a mustard taste in back of throat but not harsh @ all – PUSSY!
Chris: slightly sweet mustard
Dan: Mos├hy tꙆ₀ Saꞁwꞁᴇ

FINDINGS AND CONCLUSION:

My prediction regarding the efficacy of miracle berries was entirely incorrect, to my immense satisfaction. Miracle berries are, in fact, impressively effective. I expected very little change in taste to occur, but what I found was that the elimination of sourness as a flavor component drastically changes the flavor of foods. Oranges and pomegranate absolutely need their sour components; without them those fruits lack the depth and richness of flavor that define them as foods. Lemons, limes, and tart cherry juice, on the other hand, are hampered by their overwhelming sour flavors. Muting the sourness of those foods – in particular the lemons and cherry juice – reveals a depth of flavors that are not available to the human palate under normal circumstances. I could never have imagined the sweet butteriness to be found in cherry juice, or that lemons would become an almost entirely new flavor thanks to the effects of miraculin.

Although impressive, miracle berries are not truly miraculous. The effects of miraculin are reported to last anywhere from 15 minutes to three hours; our group noticed a sharp decline in the effects at around 25 minutes, at which time we had to use a second pill. The bond it forms with taste receptors can also be broken more quickly by the application of heat or liquids, so we waited until near the end of the experiment to test the coffee and alcohols. But these were minor inconveniences. Miracle berries may not be true miracles, but their effects are unexpected and outstanding. I personally recommend them to anyone interested in foods and the way we perceive them. The experience was something I intend to recreate with a new array of foods in the very near future, which will include actual miracle berries to test alongside the pills.

Thanks to Mark for supplying the miracle berry pills, and thanks to all of you for reading along! Be sure to join us next week when we try our hand at baking apple desserts. And, as always, until next time, bon appétit!

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