Sugar has been blamed for everything from acne to obesity, so it's no surprise people are always looking for a safe, sweet sugar alternative. If the familiar pink, yellow, blue and green sweetener packets now available have not won you over, there's a new orange packet that might.
It's a no-calorie sweetener made from monk fruit extract.
Since few of us have ever seen a monk fruit, let alone heard much about the sweetener made from it, I've collected the Answers to your most frequently asked Questions.
Frequently Asked Questions About Monk Fruit Extract
What is monk fruit?
Imagine a small green melon the size of an apple that grows on a vine. It has a thick skin and fleshy seed-filled interior.
How was it named?
The fruit is called luo han guo in Chinese. Legend has it that Buddhist monks were the first to cultivate it for its medicinal properties, so it was given the name "monk fruit" (luo han translates as "monk" and guo is "fruit").
Where does it come from?
The fruit is native to the hillsides of subtropical climates in South East Asia and China where it has been grown for hundreds of years.
How sweet is it?
The extract obtained from monk fruit is 150-200 times sweeter than sugar, so a very small amount is needed to sweeten foods and drinks. The extract has calories, but since such a small amount is used to achieve the sweetening power of sugar it provides no calories. There is still the possibility of consuming calories from the bulking agents used in the tabletop packets and from the other ingredients the sweetener is combined with to make lower sugar foods and beverages.
How is it different from other sweeteners?
This is the first no-calorie sweetener to come from a fruit, however the sweetness of monk fruit is not due to the fruit sugar, but the naturally occurring antioxidants called mogrosides.
How is it made?
The fruit is first crushed to release its juice, then the juice is mixed with hot water to extract the vitamins, antioxidants and natural sugars. This infusion is filtered to collect the sweet antioxidant compound, then it is then spray-dried to make a fine, white powder.
Is there an aftertaste?
It has been described as having a fresh, sweet taste that builds slower on the tongue and lasts longer than sugar, with no bitterness. It can be stand-alone sweetener or combined with sugar and other sweeteners to get the best sweetness profile for a given food or beverage.
Where is it being used?
Monk fruit extract is now being used in more than 30 products, including in juice drinks, carbonated beverages, yogurts, smoothies, frozen desserts, cereals, nutrition bars, and bakery mixes. There are two major tabletop versions, Nectresse and Monk Fruit In the Raw. More products are ready to launch in the coming year.
Can you cook with it?
Monk fruit sweetener is completely heat stable and suitable for use in cooking and baking. It dissolves instantly in cold or hot liquids and does not degrade once heated.
Is it safe?
Monk fruit has been consumed for hundreds of years in Asian countries where it has been used to sweetened tea and make herbal medicines. Its safety was reviewed by an Expert Panel of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and awarded a GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) exemption claim in 2010.
Can monk fruit sweetener be used on special diets?
The monk fruit extract does not supply carbohydrates or raise blood glucose levels so will not interfere with blood glucose control or insulin requirements for people with diabetes. It is also Kosher and Halal certified.
Is the seed used to grow the monk fruit genetically modified or engineered?
The monk fruit sweetener available in the U.S. is made from GMO-free (no genetically modified organisms) fruit.
How can I find it?
You can recognize monk fruit sweetener by the orange packets, in contrast to the pink, blue, yellow and green packets used for the other leading no-calorie sweeteners on the market. It is sold by major food and drug retailers and on manufacturer's websites.
For more on sweeteners in the diet: