Of all our senses, taste is the one that people associate most strongly with expectations of pleasure. But indulgence comes at a cost. Almost 45 percent of the American population will be clinically obese by 2030, according to current predictions. That will increase the total toll on the healthcare system from related illnesses, like diabetes and heart disease, to a staggering $60 billion.
And it’s not just in the United States. Over the past 30 years, global obesity rates have more than doubled, and behind the stark statistics is a simple truth about human nature. Most of us are bound by our innate desire for foods high in both sugar and fat, and given the opportunity to consume in excess, we will.
The values of healthy eating have been extolled for decades, but with little effect as the junk food industry has boomed. But perhaps the way forward is to work with our cravings, rather than attempt to deny them. For many, the Holy Grail of food research is to create a dessert free of both sugar and artificial flavoring that tastes as good as the real thing. The owner of a new coffee shop in downtown Chicago believes he has finally solved the puzzle.
As a chef and entrepreneur, Homaro Cantu has a reputation for an avant-garde approach to gastronomy. He believes the answer to one day eliminating sugar from our diets lies in a protein known as miraculin which was first discovered almost 50 years ago. Miraculin is a taste-modifier, one of only a handful of such naturally-occurring molecules in the world. It is found in the berries of a plant known as Synsepalum dulcificum or, colloquially, the “miracle fruit,” which grows in parts of West Africa.