Democracy Now! | The Fruit Hunters: Author Adam Leith Gollner on the Politics of Fruit and the Secret History of the "Miracle Berry"
ADAM LEITH GOLLNER: This miracle berry was banned by the FDA in the early 1970s. Some—
AMY GOODMAN: I’m eating something that was banned by the FDA?
ADAM LEITH GOLLNER: Well, you’re about to find out—you’re about to hear the story. In the ’60s and the ’70s, an entrepreneur named Robert Harvey managed to raise tens of millions of dollars to create an all-natural alternative to sugar using the miracle fruit, and he managed to synthesize the active ingredient in this berry, which is a protein called “miraculin.” So, what’s happening to you right now is you have miraculin on your taste buds, and that means that when sour foods come into contact with the sweetness receptors on your taste buds, it sends this very powerful sweetness signal to your brain, even though there’s only sour coming into your mouth. And so—
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, it’s just unbelievable.
ADAM LEITH GOLLNER: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s sweeter than an orange.
ADAM LEITH GOLLNER: It’s amazing. And this entrepreneur—
AMY GOODMAN: Did you bring more limes? Because I like it.
ADAM LEITH GOLLNER: Keep on eating them. I know, I know. It’s really delicious.
AMY GOODMAN: Of course, I love limes, too, when they’re sour, but these are very sweet. So, why was it banned?
ADAM LEITH GOLLNER: OK, so here is what happened. He started making miracle fruit tablets, because these fruits don’t have a very long shelf life, and that’s another reason that many of these fruits from the tropics don’t make it here, is that they just have no shelf life whatsoever. But he put them in tablet form. Diabetics were going crazy for them. Kids were choosing miracle fruit popsicles over regular popsicles by this enormous margin. And companies, other corporations started getting interested. And Harvey was turning down offers in the billions for control—billions of dollars were being offered to him for this, because it looked like it was poised to become an all-natural alternative to sugar. And even the artificial sweetening industry was very concerned about this threat of this small red berry.
But what happened was, that just as it was about to launch, Harvey’s company, his office was raided by industrial spies. His files were stolen. He got into high-speed car chases in the middle of the night. People were following him.
AMY GOODMAN: Who is this guy?
ADAM LEITH GOLLNER: He was the entrepreneur that brought miraculin to the market in 1960s and ’70s. And then it got banned just as it was about to launch. And he got a letter in 1974 from the FDA saying the miracle berry—miracle berry products are not allowed into the market in any form whatsoever. And so, he had to shut down the entire operation.
AMY GOODMAN: Is it metabolized as glucose?
ADAM LEITH GOLLNER: No, not at all. Not at all.
AMY GOODMAN: So, for diabetics, it’s fine.
ADAM LEITH GOLLNER: It’s totally good. It’s good for people who are undergoing chemotherapy treatment, because for them, all food tastes metallic and rubbery. But when you take a miracle berry, it actually allows you to taste the foods again. It’s just a wonderful thing.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about how, OK, this miracle berry has not been approved, but aspartame has? Explain the story of aspartame and our former secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld.
ADAM LEITH GOLLNER: Yes, Donald Rumsfeld was the head of a corporation called Searle, and he spent many years approving the—or working on the legalization process for aspartame. And the head of the FDA that came in briefly, just for a moment, just long enough to approve aspartame, immediately left subsequently. He came under fire for accepting corporate donations and corporate gifts. Nobody was surprised, seeing as he immediately went to Searle’s public relations firm as soon as he left the FDA.