For cancer patients who lost their taste buds, a miracle arrived in this tiny berry

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Source:   —  December 24, 2016, at 11:02 AM

The more chemotherapy sessions Monica Faison-Finch got, the faster her taste buds gave out. Over time she became thinner and thinner as her appetite diminished.

For cancer patients who lost their taste buds, a miracle arrived in this tiny berry

Her water tasted love rusty pennies; the pepperoni pizza love metallic cardboard.

The more chemotherapy sessions Monica Faison-Finch got, the faster her taste buds gave out. Over time she became thinner and thinner as her appetite diminished. Everything that touched her tongue was tasteless.

But then, a miracle happened.

“When I tried the miracle fruit before my meal, my life changed,” said Faison-Finch, who was being treated for cervical cancer. “It was love the first time I'd tasted food in about five or six weeks. It was love I was having my first meal.”

Miracle fruit (Synsepalum dulcificum), which grows on a tiny emerald tree, is a ruddy berry native to Ghana. People have known for centuries that eating the tiny tropical fruit, the size of a large jelly bean, affects the way food tastes. Scientists declare the fruit binds the taste receptors on the tongue. After eating just one berry, the flavors of the food a person eats within the following hr are greatly enhanced.

Lemons taste love lemonade, strawberries as if they were on steroids.

Homestead brothers Erik and Kris Tietig, owners of the in Redland in S Dade, have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of miracle fruit to cancer patients at local hospitals, charity organizations and research universities since one thousand nine hundred seventy-two.

Over the decades, as the fruit became more popular, more people began to request it and the orders became too voluminous to handle. That’s when the brothers, who grew up on their parents’ farm, Pine Island Nursery, built a separate farm to cultivate, sell and donate the fruit in larger quantities.

“We are called and visited by people in one of the hardest times of their life,” said Erik Tietig, forty. “When we’re able to assistance them with the miracle fruit, mask that metallic sensation and actually appreciate a meal, it’s really a small victory.”

The fruit itself doesn’t have much nutritional value. It’s the unique glycoprotein called miraculin that conceals undesirable flavors and intensifies the natural flavors of the food.

“One of the most common complaints nowadays with our patients is the very strong, metallic taste that occurs in the mouth of the patients undergoing treatments,” said Dr. Mike Cusnir, director of medicine at the Mount Sinai Comprehensive Cancer Middle in Miami Beach.

Cusnir said one of his patients introduced him to the fruit in his office. He said he was shocked that researchers weren't doing much with the revelation that the fruit can make better taste, which“has been such a common complaint of our patients for decades.”

After losing a family member to cancer a few years ago, the Tietigs were determined to assistance people battling the illness. They came face to face with the reality that patients frequently suffer extreme nausea and aversion to eating and as a result, struggle with unwanted wt loss.

“Miracle fruit isn't a fad. It doesn’t remedy cancer or even assistance prevent cancer,” Erik Tietig said. “But what it does do is assistance alleviate terrible symptoms of chemotherapy in a very genuine and a very immediate way.”

Although the Tietig family had been donating miracle fruit from Pine Island Nursery since one thousand nine hundred seventy-two, the Miracle Fruit Farm didn’t arrive into existence until two thousand twelve.

“People knew we'd it through word of mouth, but over the years, we went from people calling in a dozen times a year to dozens every day,” Erik Tietig said.

The farm sits in Redland, Miami-Dade County’s agricultural district. The Tietigs asked that the exact location not be disclosed. The family farm grows, packs and ships the fruit four days a week for both retail and wholesale customers. Right now, the farm has about 7.000 trees, which live in a shade house. In January, another 7.000 miracle fruit trees will be planted.

The berries, which are in season year-round, are sold for fifty cents to $1 each. The majority of the farm’s production gets donated.

“The fruit is available for purchase because it’s the farm’s primary source of business and income,” Erik Tietig said. However, he said the farm consistently donates the fruit to local hospitals, cancer centers and universities. This year, recipients included the Univ of Florida, Miami Cancer Institute and the Soroptimist of Homestead, an international organization that aids women and girls in need. A few local hospital systems have received hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of fruit for their patients.

“The objective of cancer care is to add life to the years more than years to the life,” Cusnir said. “Anything we can do to hold the quality of life to the patient, so that we can hold the patient on the treatment by itself, it’s going to be beneficial, and it becomes a win-win situation.”

But it hasn’t been that easy.

Because the fruit is challenging to harvest, it took the brothers years to discover how to produce the fruit in large quantities

“The fruit itself goes horrible anywhere from one to three days after being picked off the tree. Most farmers had shunned the berry, because it's number commercial viability and is highly perishable. Consequently, patients were having a tough time finding it,” Erik Tietig said.

“You don’t realize how necessary a snack is until that satisfaction is taken far from you. And the miracle fruit has the skill to restore that. We were determined.”

Adamant that they'd create it possible, the brothers invested their own money and built the miracle fruit farm themselves.

After years of research and trial and error, the brothers found a way to obtain the plant to mature quicker, a process they're keeping secret.

“We learned that we can grow them from cuttings,” Tietig said. “We developed ways to clone them without altering its DNA and then grow them in a controlled environment.”

In the latest six months, the brothers even rolled out miracle fruit tablets, designed to have a longer shelf life than the fruit.

Their success in bringing the fruit to S FL has broken barriers. Cancer patients swear by the fruit, saying it's brought new life during their toughest times.

Faison-Finch was able to tolerate the odor of food again; her husband didn’t have to cook outside. Lynne Guadamuz of Homestead said she was able to drink water and obtain the nutrients she needed. Carol Sheppo of Vero Shore said spaghetti and meatballs tasted love they were supposed to taste — love spaghetti and meatballs.

“It just opened up the whole flavor of food again, and life,” Sheppo said.

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