March 30, 2009

A Flavorful Flight of Fancy

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While doing some research on the “magic berry,” I read an article in The New York Times called the “The Tiny Fruit that Tricks the Tongue.” The authors Patrick Farrel and Kassie Bracken stated that one woman claimed Tabasco sauce tasted just like doughnut glaze after eating the small fruit. Excited about this remarkable story, I went to the “Flavor Tripping” event anticipating an eccentric night of wild taste testing. I was anxious to experience the effects of this berry for myself, hoping to walk away with a novel taste-altering experience I could boast about to my friends and family back home. Yet, to my utter disappointment, I must sadly admit that there can be no boasting over this berry. In fact, the only real boasting can be given to the overall impressive set-up of the event. I can’t claim to have left the event flavor tripping, but I did leave feeling trippy from the general ambiance of Risley Hall.
The true main attraction of the event, the berry itself, simply fell short of its hyped-up expectations. This supposed miracle fruit, scientifically known as synsepalum dulcificum, originated in West Africa, and is currently cultivated in numerous locations all over the world. It reconfigures the way our taste buds interpret food by changing sour flavors to sweet for up to an hour, depending on the individual. The process works due to a protein called miraculin that induces sweetness when in contact with acidic foods. So, as the servers at Risley suggested, the berry’s sweetening effect will be enhanced to its fullest extent with naturally acidic citrus fruits.
From the very start, it was clear that Cornell Underground, which sponsored “Flavor Tripping”, wanted this exotic event to be an unusual experience for all attendees. The event occurred Saturday night at Risley from 7:30 pm-12:30 am and lasted about half an hour for each group of 15 that entered. While people stood in line awaiting this “magical berry,” servers dressed in bizarre ensembles gave people various fruits to taste including limes, lemons, grapefruit and blood oranges. This was done so tasters could compare the natural, pre-berry experience of these fruits to the later effect with the berry.
[img_assist|nid=36352|title=Want to take a shot?|desc=The three rooms at Cornell Underground’s “Flavor Tripping” event invited guests to push the boundaries of taste after eating a magic berry. Here, David Rosenberg ’11 offers samples of hot sauce and barbecue sauce to passersby.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]Upon entering the first room, each taster was given a cold berry and told to swirl it around the mouth for 30 seconds to a minute without biting down on the inner seed. The instructor explained how the berries are highly perishable and must be frozen up until 15 minutes prior to consumption. Additionally, I learned of other common uses for the berry other than “flavor tripping” parties. In a more practical manner, the berry is frequently given to cancer patients to allow them to retain sweet tastes as they lose their taste buds. Also, it is particularly popular among diabetics who want to still have the experience of indulging in sweet foods while avoiding high levels of sugar.
Simply on its own, the berry tasted sweet, but was nothing extraordinary to eat for its own innate pleasure. The real test of the berry began minutes later as we were led off to the side by mysterious servers dressed in all black with masks. They walked around offering a variety of fruits to taste and at first, while tasting a kiwi, I felt absolutely no effect. After that, I tried both a lemon and a grapefruit, which each tasted especially sweet.
Entering the next room, I was dazzled by its luminous décor and creative display of foods. It was like a scene from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, as lollipops and strawberries hung from the walls and bowls of sour candy lined the room. More servers, donned in polka-dotted dresses and psychedelic vests, walked around handing out sugared paper and other unlikely foods. In one corner of the room was the bar that offered a range of Tabasco, A1 and other sauces to try. Holding multiple foods in her hand, my friend commented, “I can’t believe right now I’m eating a lollipop and drinking A1 sauce interchangeably. Who would ever do this?” The truth of the matter is the whole concept was rather stomach-turning.
In the final room, decorated chicly in black and white, we were each given lemon tarts as we walked in. This was the favorite food I ate, but I couldn’t deduce whether I simply enjoyed the tart on its own or the berry had actually enhanced its overall effect. There was also a variety of vinegars to try, which all seemed to taste exactly the same as normal vinegar. Overall, the berry’s power only seemed to work with any semi-potent effect on the fruits.
[img_assist|nid=36354|title=I’m freaking out, man|desc=Isaac Taitz ’11 adds more lollypops to the scenery at “Flavor Tripping.” Goodies included fresh strawberries, grapefruit and assorted sweets.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]The six founders of Cornell Underground, who choose to remain incognito, began their club last semester, aiming to provide Cornell with events that will change students’ perception of dining and the way in which they experience food. The Cornell Underground hopes to elicit a sensory dining experience by intermingling unique foods with matching architectural design, music and environment. As one of the anonymous founders explained, “This food tonight is not meant for sustenance purposes or to make you full; rather, we want to show how dining can be an art form.” He explained how the club achieved the goal of complementing the cuisine with the atmosphere by pairing appropriate art forms, music and designs with specific foods in their prior dinner series event last semester. They hoped to achieve a similar effect at “Flavor Tripping.”
“Flavor Tripping” ultimately left many eager taste-testers not wholly satisfied. To my knowledge, not one person tasted the Tabasco sauce and leapt for joy proclaiming it to be as sweet as icing. Nevertheless, many people left highly fascinated and intrigued by the sensational atmosphere Cornell Underground managed to create. The ambiance and combination of unique décor, interesting food presentation and unusual music were reason enough to attend. I for one was visually entertained throughout the evening by the mixture of vibrant and opaque colors, bizarre designs and funky outfits.
By the end of the night I don’t quite believe I was “flavor tripping,” since my taste buds seemed perfectly in order. Yet, somehow I did feel slightly different. “Is it really safe to drive now?” asked my friend as we left Risley. Strangely, we both had to ponder this for a second. As my gullibility wore off, I realized we were just “trippy” from the bizarre atmosphere of the event. Perhaps as the magic berry gains popularity (and if I am fortunate enough to attend another “flavor tripping party”) I’ll get to experience the real deal. If luck comes my way, hopefully, one day you’ll see me throwing back Tabasco sauce and actually enjoying it. Who knows?