I looked online to find this strange berry, but didn't have a lot ot luck finding a good source. But then I found a nursery that was selling plants. So I bought one. It's a nice looking plant and I got one that was a decent size, maybe about two feet tall.
The first year, at first the plant didn't do much at all, but when I moved it outdoors and fed it some acidic fertilizer it started growing new leaves and looking a lot happier. Later, I got a couple reluctant flowers, but no fruit. The second year, I got two crops of flowers and two berries that never got ripe.
This year I got a lot of flowers before I moved the plant outdoors (I move quite a few plants outdoors during the summer and move them back indoors when it gets cool.) The first batch of flowers didn't give me any berries, but then it bloomed again. A lot fewer flowers, but I got one berry and it was early enough that now it's ripe.
It's a pretty thing - bright red against the green leaves. But does it really do what I've heard? Does it really change the way things taste?
For our little test, I assembled some sour and bitter things we had around - lemon, cider vinegar, apple cider, tomatoes, marinated mushrooms, and some Guinness beer. And I added a few things that weren't tart or bitter - cheddar cheese and cucumbers.
I cut the berry in half and found that there's a huge seed in the center. Edible, apparently, since I'm still alive. I wasn't sure if it was the pulp or the seed that caused the taste change, so we each took half and chewed up the whole thing. The flavor was a little astringent and a little ... oh, I don't know. Not terrible, but not something I'd go back for simply for the taste.
I started with the lemon, and there was no doubt. The puckery sourness was gone and it there was an amazing sweetness. The lemon flavor was still there, but it was like a really sweet lemonaid instead of straight lemon.
But was it masking the sour by making everything super-sweet? I tried the cucumber and the cheese, and they didn't taste sweet at all. Hmmmmm....
The tomato wasn't overly sweet, like the lemon was. But it wasn't particularly tart, either.
The Guinness was interesting. It lost the bitterness so the malt was more prominent, but it didn't seem overly sweet.
The mushrooms, marinated in sherry vinegar (among other things) were sweet. Not horribly sweet, but most definitely sweet.
The apple cider tasted like apple juice. It wasn't as tart as the cider, but it wasn't a mind-blowing effect.
But then I got to the cider vinegar. Oh my. It was sweet, almost seeming syrupy on my tongue, even though I knew that it wasn't thick. There was still a hint of tartness, but not sour.
Last, I went back to the lemon, and it was even sweeter than when I first tasted it. More sugary and syrupy. I knew I was eating a lemon, and I could feel the flush that I get when I eat something really acidic, but my tastebuds were telling me this was a sugary sweet.
Now that I know what the effect is, I'm looking forward to a better-prepared set of samples next year, with limes, lemons, oranges and grapefruit. Maybe some tart apples. Cranberries, maybe. It seems that the more sour something is to begin with, the more sweet it becomes. But things that aren't sour at all are almost unchanged. I should have tried something sweet, but didn't think of it. That's for next time.
I'm hoping for a bigger crop next year, too. This would be fun with a group of people.