Originating in tropical West Africa, miracle berries from the _ Synsepalum dulcificum _ plant have a peculiar sensory effect: They make sour flavors taste sweet. In 1968, scientists identified the miraculous protein in the berries that causes the effect, dubbing it miraculin. Miracle berries themselves are low in sugar, but miraculin binds to sweet receptors on our taste buds and activates them in the presence of sourness. The sweetening effect lasts until the protein is rinsed away by saliva, up to 30 minutes. Heat and refrigeration denature the miraculin protein so the berries must be eaten fresh to get the effect.
Fresh miracle berries can be found online, and gastronauts have been experimenting with them in combination with various foods at so-called “flavor-tripping” parties. Participants typically chew the fresh fruit, discarding the seed, then taste wine, beer, vinegar, hot sauce, strong cheese or other sour-tasting foods. Some say that hot sauce ends up tasting like spicy doughnut glaze, and goat cheese can taste like cheesecake.
In the 1970s, the FDA labeled miracle berries a “food additive,” permitting them to be grown on U.S. soil but not used in food commercially. Nonetheless, miraculin allows diabetics to taste sweetness without consuming sugar and allows cancer patients affected by chemotherapy to taste a wider range of flavors.
China has begun increasing its imports of key agricultural commodities from the U.S. as part of the trade deal signed in January that aims to end an 18-month trade war. Even though imports are up, China is nowhere near the sales targets proposed under the deal.
The target for phase-one agricultural sales is expected to hit $36.6 billion this year with overall exports increasing to as much as $200 billion over the next two years. So far, China has approved 2,085 U.S. beef, pork, poultry, seafood, dairy and infant formula facilities for exports, the most in history. Pork shipments, in particular, are up 57% since last year at this time, according to USDA data. Soybean sales are up 9% compared to last year and wheat sales have risen dramatically to 225,000 metric tons for this year and 455,000 metric tons committed for next year. China has also approved additional imports of blueberries, avocados, and various barley and hay products.
But these higher sales volumes mask the fact that commodity prices have dropped for most major agricultural products. Targets for the phase-one deal are based on dollar values, so despite increased shipments, China is still falling short of reaching goals for U.S. imports under the trade agreement.
Farmers and ranchers can now start signing up for direct aid from the U.S. Department of Agriculture through its Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP). The $16 billion in financial relief was approved by President Trump last Tuesday, along with $3 billion in commodity purchases that will go to food banks. The funds come from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Securities (Cares) Act passed by Congress in late March, and after hearing from ranchers, the USDA has increased its payment cap from $125,000 per individual to $250,000. Livestock producers who can apply for aid include those raising cattle, hogs, and sheep. Dairy farmers are also eligible as well as those growing corn, soybeans, cotton, barley, canola, sorghum, millet, sunflowers, oats, durum wheat, and hard red spring wheat. The USDA expects that payments may be issued to producers as soon as a week after signing up.
As many small farmers pivot to e-commerce, more local produce is now offered for delivery in various regions of the country. In Chicago, for example, Green City Market has partnered with the app WhatsGood to deliver produce around Chicagoland. The Lancaster Farm Fresh Co-op in Pennsylvania started its own home-delivery service for the Lancaster region, while Wildkale works with northeast regional farms in an online marketplace that delivers vegetables and fruits to areas of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and various New England states. Other farms and co-ops have gone national. New Jersey-based Misfits Market rescues organic produce that would otherwise be wasted and ships to 23 different states around the country. The Chef’s Garden in Ohio typically sells pristine produce to fine-dining restaurants such as The French Laundry in California and Restaurant Daniel in New York. But now Farmer Lee Jones sells his gorgeous vegetables and fruits direct to home cooks through his online store.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a $3.6 million program to help farmers and food banks stay afloat amid the COVID-19 pandemic Wednesday of last week. Additionally announcing a philanthropy pledge of $15 million, at the heel of the federal aid package of $19 billion promised to ranchers and farmers. Though the plan will benefit food banks, growers across California say even if they qualify for the maximum amount of aid, the money will not cover the losses seen throughout this crisis. Ryan Indart, a ranch owner from Clovis, Ca, says it will only keep his ranch afloat for about two months at best.
While demand has increased for food banks by 73 percent as a result of COVID-19, demand for both farmers and ranchers’ products has declined by 50 percent. Paired with perishable goods alongside transportation and harvesting costs, the lack of business has forced many California growers to begin dumping unused milk, destroy crops, and even kill livestock. However, the federal aid package is good news for food banks, having $3 billion of said funs distributed to farmers and ranchers to put together food boxes of pre-prepared meats, produce, and dairy to feed families in need. Food banks are hoping farmers will partner up to prepare these boxes, as equally distributing the wealth becomes an even bigger conflict. “If you ship an equal amount to every one of them, everybody’s going to be mad. For some, it’s not enough, for some, it’s way too much,” said Jacyln Pack, food acquisitions manager. The $3 billion in aid still won’t be enough for farmers, according to Cannon Michael, president of Bowles Farming Company. While they get a pick-and-pack fee, as well as a 15% tax credit, the price that food banks pay for produce has never been enough to cover the full costs of harvest, he said.