As a food scientist who worked in product development, I have a great appreciation for creativity, which constantly draws my attention to innovative new products or concepts. Although the failure rate for new product introductions is extremely high, one fresh, new idea can really boost sales.
Back in May, I came across an article in the New York Times entitled “A Tiny Fruit that Tricks the Tongue,” by Patrick Farrell and Kassie Bracken. Apparently, there's a small red berry called miracle fruit that “rewires the way the palate perceives sour flavors” for an hour or so after the fruit is eaten. Synsepalum dulcificum is native to West Africa. It contains a protein called miraculin, which “binds with the taste buds and acts as a sweetness inducer when it comes in contact with acids,” says Linda Bartoshuk, University of Florida's Center for Smell and Taste. During the 1970s, the FDA reportedly declined permission to use the extract of miraculin as a sugar substitute. The berries, which are extremely perishable, sell for more than $2 a piece.
While the fruit has inspired “flavor tripping” parties where limes taste candied, vinegar tastes like apple juice, goat cheese like cheesecake, and so on, I wouldn't be surprised if food scientists are using its extract as a taste modifier for sweetness enhancement. Taste modifiers are becoming more crucial in today's push to reduce sugar and sodium.
On the heels of IFT's annual convention, I am reminded of the critical role product developers play in the fickle world of consumer demand. It wasn't long ago that low carbs were driving food scientists to search for tasty alternatives to high carb foods. Fortunately for the baking industry, carbs are back.
As described in IFT's Post-show review on page 40, many of today's trends appear to be health oriented, from reduced sodium to high fiber to nutritionally fortified. Regardless of the trend, product developers need to remember that no product will succeed unless taste is number one. Oftentimes, achieving that goal requires a little ingenuity-either that or some miracle fruit.