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TED2011 Conference Has a Berry Big Idea


You may know it as the gathering of the most innovative idea makers in the fields of technology, entertainment, design and beyond. It’s the widely celebrated TED conference, which this year lands in Long Beach for TED2011 and features the latest assembly of the world’s most compelling and notable thinkers, speakers, and performers all sharing their ideas—some which aim to change the world.

A recent story in Wired Magazine about the conference features a world-changing idea from Chicago chef Homaro Cantu. His big idea comes from berries: specifically the so-called “miracle berry”, a West African berry that looks like a cranberry but comes with the peculiar quality of binding to the sour and bitter receptors in the mouth. The result is that the mind can be tricked into thinking what we’re eating is sweet, no matter if it’s bitter, sour or completely tasteless. For example, biting into a lemon mixed with miracle berries would mean taking pleasure in a mouthful of sweetness.

Because the berry can turn what would normally be inedible ingredients into palatable food, Cantu’s idea involves using the berry to help feed people in famine-stricken regions. Mixing the berry with wild, bitter grasses, which are plentiful but inedible because of their taste, would transform it into something edible, thereby making it a viable food source.

This nascent idea could have other possibilities for those who navigate a world where food is plentiful. The miracle berry can fool our tongue by adding a little sweet to foods that are better for us and shifting our cravings away from sweet foods that are bad for us. The berry can be used to sweeten water, for instance, changing our craving for a soda into contentment with plain water – its taste bud voodoo makes us think we’re drinking something sweet.

A ingenious residual benefit to Cantu’s research involves successful experimentation with the berry to eliminate the metallic flavor that chemotherapy patients taste in food. The result would help those coping with chemotherapy to enjoy food and gain much-needed weight.

TED-Inspired Thinking in Your Kitchen

Cantu espouses a big idea that holds promise for many of the world’s most dire food challenges. We can do our part to change the world as well, by using berries to change our health. Cantu reminds us that berries have a myriad of purposes (keep a frozen bag in the freezer—as tasty and nutritious as fresh) for those focused on better health and disease prevention. Here’s some berry voodoo that can turn you into a health visionary in your kitchen, no miracle required:


Bathe your Meal in Berries
. Studies have indicated that the adverse effects of food occur during absorption, following a meal.  One of the paradoxes of this absorption has been observed widely in France. This “French paradox” results in populations that eat a high saturated fat diet but do not have much cardiovascular disease.

The French, as it happens, bathe their meals in wine. The principle is the same no matter your geography. Red wine has the same nutritional profile as berries do, and have benefits for eyesight, brain function, cardiovascular health, even some forms of cancer. Bathe your meals in berries by pairing a meal with juice, having a cup of berries with lunch, or using berries to add excitement to entrees such as fish, chicken or poultry (wild blueberries offer the best palate-pleasing topping for proteins).

Berry Synergy. Besides a near-perfect nutritional punch, Superfood guru Dr. Steven Pratt maintains that some berries also have a remarkable “synergy” with other food, making them perfect for combining. “If you have blueberries plus walnuts for brain health, that’s better than just walnuts alone,” he said. “It’s not one plus one is two. It’s one plus one is three,” said Pratt. Read more about food synergy.

Making the “Paleo” Diet Sweeter. Recent interest in the so-called Paleo diet gets its compelling headlines from putting the focus on massive meat servings and antics like pulling SUVs to mimic bison hunting activity. But the principles of “caveman” eating is something healthy eaters have known well before the recent buzz. The idea is that the human body has the same genetic makeup now as it did in the Stone Age, before processed food and non-food items that are delicious and devoid of nutrition filled our grocery store shelves and our plates.

The more modern our lifestyle and food choices are, the more we need berries to counteract our choices. While bison was available to superior hunter-gatherers, berries have been readily available throughout human history to even the worst hunters, and they are a great way to let our bodies know that even though it’s the modern age, we are giving it what it needs.

Sweet! Better with Berries. Sugar isn’t inherently evil, but its presence surrounds us, and the processed forms it takes are deliberately created to reel in our taste buds. But we don’t have to stop loving the sweet. Berries offer sweet indulgences that are naturally satisfying. For instance, if you are making smoothies, berries serve as a miracle ingredient of great taste. No need to buy processed shakes when adding blueberries or raspberries to whey or soy powder makes a delicious, natural drinkable meal.


Whether we’re smoothie freaks or not, the sweet tastes of dessert reigns for almost everyone with a stomach. If berries are not a primary ingredient in your desserts, you’re missing natural flavor and nutrition. Wild blueberries offer variations in flavor that range from savory to sour, blackberries and raspberries provide major tartness, and strawberries are famous for their own mildly delicious smack. Don’t wait for summer to pile on the berries to satisfy your sweet tooth. Go frozen and indulge all year long.

Southern Living has 21 berry desserts.

Chatelaine has a round-up of delicious berry recipes.

The Wild Blueberry Association features big taste with Wild Blueberry-inspired desserts and entrées for berry-bathing all year long.

See what’s happening at TED2011 this week.

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