How to Cultivate Miracle (Akai) Berry

Synsephalum dulcifucum from the family Sapotaceae, otherwise known as the Miracle Berry, is a small multi-branched tree with thick foliage indigenous to tropical West Africa, and can grow 2-5 meters high. When the fruit ripens, it is bright red about 2-cm. long, olive-shaped, and has a somewhat large seed wrapped by a sweet white pulp that affects the sour receptors of the taste buds, turning all sour foods to taste sweet. The more sour the fruit, food or drink consumed, the sweeter it will taste. This sweetening effect stays in your tongue for an hour or so, and the flavor of fruits like strawberries, pineapple, grapefruit, thubarb, etc. is greatly enhanced when their delicate flavors formerly masked by natural acids, are released.

The berry still commonly eaten (particularly by children) in West Africa, was discovered by Westerners in 1964. Multinational corporations in the USA and Europe tried and spent millions of dollars analyzing then synthesizing the flesh, which they hoped would be used as sugar substitute, the active principles of the sweetening wonder were isolated but because of the complexity of its synthesizing, the active ingredients were found impossible. Tests conducted showed no adverse effects on its long-term use.

One of the most evident benefits of the miracle berry is that it is essentially a non-caloric sweetener and flavor enhancer. It has also 1.90 percent protein. The fruit is non-toxic to eat in quantity – the flesh of 1/4 of a berry bears as much sweetening effects as the flesh of 30 berries or more. Two of the most potential users of the fruit would be dieters and diabetics.

The plant is a native of tropical jungles of West Africa, where the climate is warm, humid because the area is almost on the equator, therefore the plant will thrive under those conditions. The plants in nursery would bear fruits under two years when subjected to continuous warmth and humidity with about 30 percent shade. Growers who want to get the best results should attempt to simulate equatorial conditions. Like temperature and humidity experienced in the forest during the wet season.

akai berry image

The shrub should be grown in tubs or pails in a warm sheltered spot on your patio or verandah for at least 3-4 years, by which time your plant should have reached 1-1.5 meters tall and bearing fruits. The plant will need a larger tub each time you re-pot it.

Do not re-pot the plant not until at least 20 cm. above the pot. By then, you decide if you wish to plant the shrub out in your garden under filtered sunlight or keep it as a tub specimen.

The shrub likes an acid soil and the addition of a quantity of peat moss and compost to your soil is important. Your ‘Miracle Berry’ should be kept moist and fed every 10 days with an organic fertilizer. Fertilize a little but often with seaweed or fish emulsion.

No diseases have been observed. The only pest observed is scale, which should be treated by some other chemical other than white oil because this is known to cause leaf drop.

You can propagate the plant by stem cutting, air layering or grafting but these do not assure you of a high percentage of survival. Seeds can be planted but it takes long to germinate and seed-grown plants slow growing.

It is safe for beginners to buy plants of more than 30 cm. tall. Their chances of survival are higher.

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