Monk Fruit: An All-Natural Sugar Substitute
It is common knowledge that one of the most desirable food and beverage tastes is sweetness, yet the excessive ingestion of sugar negatively affects human health (1). Food and beverage industry experts know better than anyone how challenging it can be to achieve a sweet taste in products without the repercussions of added sugar. That’s where monk fruit, also known as Luo Han Guo or swingle fruit, comes in. Freely soluble in water, most monk fruit extract takes the form of an off-white to light yellow powder, but this sweetener also comes in liquid, concentrate and granulated forms. Monk fruit has become a significant ingredient for research because of the pharmacological and economic potential of its non-caloric, extremely sweet components, namely mogrosides (2).
The Origin of Monk Fruit
Native to the remote mountains of China and Thailand, monk fruit allegedly gets its name from the Buddhist monks who were the first to cultivate it nearly 800 years ago (3). The warmer temperatures and higher elevation in Southeast Asia lend well to the growth of this impressive fruit. A herbaceous perennial vine of the gourd family Cucurbitaceae, monk fruit is derived from a plant called Siraitia grosvenorii. Monk fruit extracts are prepared by water extraction of the fruits of said plant, specifically by removing the seeds and skin of the fruit, crushing the fruit and collecting the juice (4). The principal sweetening component at play is called mogroside V. Research has shown that mogrosides have antioxidant effects, making monk fruit an even more desirable ingredient (5). It is worth noting that mogroside V is a different molecule than glucose, so it does not act like sugar.
Some Sweet Benefits
Although monk fruit is newer to the food and beverage scene, it has been around for ages. In traditional Chinese medicine, monk fruit relieves cough, sore throat and other upper respiratory issues (2). Monk fruit is 150-250 times sweeter than sucrose and up to 300 times sweeter than sugar; therefore, a little bit goes a long way. Plus, this ingredient has zero calories per serving, giving it a zero glycemic index. The calorie-free nature of this sweetener makes it safe for patients with diabetes and preferable for anyone on a low-carb diet. Monk fruit has been deemed GRAS (generally regarded as safe) by the FDA, as there are no known harmful side effects (6). Even better news for food and beverage producers: most people think it has a better aftertaste profile than other natural options. The flavor of monk fruit provides sweetness without the lingering bitterness.
Monk fruit is more than just a health-beneficial zero-calories sweetener. According to a 2021 study, monk fruit sweetener helps decrease symptoms of asthma and diabetes, prevents oxidation and cancer, protects the liver, regulates immune function and lowers glucose levels (1). One study on the biochemistry of monk fruit revealed that the fruit induces several biological activities, including anti-oxidative effect, hypoglycemic response, anti-allergic properties, anti-carcinogenic and anti-tissue damage activities (7). Results from an experiment on rats indicated that monk fruit extract might be a good alternative to sucrose products in people with type 2 diabetes to delay the progression of diabetes and associated complications, as it can help control blood sugar levels (8). A separate study from 2017 also found that the mogrosides in Siraitia grosvenori positively affect blood glucose level control (9). Surprisingly enough, the mogroside in monk fruit has even been shown to suppress colorectal and throat cancer activity, meaning that mogroside V may be potentially used as a biologically active phytochemical supplement for treating colorectal and throat cancers (10). A 2015 study investigated parents’ and children’s acceptance of chocolate milk sweetened with monk fruit. This matters because chocolate milk increases childrens’ milk consumption, but high sugar content raises health concerns (6). The full breadth of monk fruit’s capabilities is still being researched. For instance, the recently-discovered availability of a new monk fruit genome assembly will facilitate the discovery of new functional genes and the genetic improvement of monk fruit (2). Research also continues on emerging issues like the effect of low-calorie sweeteners on the gut microbiome (11). Patterns thus far trend positively, so keep an eye out for discoveries about this sweet ingredient.
Applications of the Fruit
Monk fruit has more applications than meets the eye. Aside from the food and beverage industry, monk fruit also touches the personal care, nutraceutical, pharmaceutical and clean label industries. It most often shows up in confectionery, dairy, cereals, tabletop, and baked goods in the food and beverage realm. Last year, an entire clinical study was done on the viability of monk fruit extract as a sweetener for yogurt, taking its physicochemical, rheological, microstructural, and antioxidant properties into consideration (12). Essentially, yogurt sweetened with monk fruit had higher levels of antioxidants than yogurt sweetened with sucrose and still tasted great. The concentrated nature of monk fruit leaves room for other product enhancements like additional complex carbohydrates, fibers and whole grains in any given food or beverage. Monk fruit as an all-natural sweetener has plenty of untapped potentials.
We want to give you the clearest picture of this ingredient, and monk fruit does come with a couple of minor drawbacks. One is that monk fruit sweetener is a non-nutritive substance, meaning that, like the majority of sweetening agents, it does not provide any nutritional value. Secondly, a reality of the specialty ingredient world related to food and beverage is that there are a plethora of options for sweeteners; stevia, Reb M and erythritol are all zero-calories sugar substitutes. However, monk fruit does have the aforementioned benefits that these three alternatives do not. Lastly, monk fruit is not commercially cultivated outside China since scientific information for the cultivation of this species is lacking, so using this ingredient will require importation for American companies (13). This is where an established, knowledgeable specialty ingredient distributor becomes vital.
Is Monk Fruit Right for Your Products?
Consumers trust fruit because they associate it with a healthy sweetness. Food and beverage producers have an opportunity to capitalize on that trust and health consciousness, as the monk fruit industry is projected to grow noticeably between now and 2027 (14). We recommend considering the benefits, previous research, and financial factors of monk fruit when deciding if this natural sweetener could serve your company well.
- Buchilina, A., & Aryana, K. (2021). Physicochemical and microbiological characteristics of camel milk yogurt as influenced by monk fruit sweetener. Journal of Dairy Science, 104(2), 1484–1493. https://doi.org/10.3168/jds.2020-18842
- Improved de novo genome assembly and analysis of the Chinese cucurbit Siraitia grosvenorii, also known as monk fruit or luo-han-guo | GigaScience | Oxford Academic. (n.d.). Retrieved September 29, 2021, from https://academic.oup.com/gigascience/article/7/6/giy067/5034949?login=true
- Thieme E-Journals—Journal of Social Health and Diabetes / Full Text. (n.d.). Retrieved September 29, 2021, from https://www.thieme-connect.com/products/ejournals/html/10.1055/s-0038-1676183
- EFSA Panel on Food Additives and Flavourings (FAF), Younes, M., Aquilina, G., Engel, K.-H., Fowler, P., Frutos Fernandez, M. J., Fürst, P., Gürtler, R., Gundert-Remy, U., Husøy, T., Mennes, W., Moldeus, P., Oskarsson, A., Shah, R., Waalkens-Berendsen, I., Wölfle, D., Degen, G., Herman, L., Gott, D., … Castle, L. (2019). Safety of use of Monk fruit extract as a food additive in different food categories. EFSA Journal, 17(12), e05921. https://doi.org/10.2903/j.efsa.2019.5921
- Xu, Q., Chen, S. Y., Deng, L. D., Feng, L. P., Huang, L. Z., & Yu, R. R. (2013). Antioxidant effect of mogrosides against oxidative stress induced by palmitic acid in mouse insulinoma NIT-1 cells. Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research, 46(11), 949–955. https://doi.org/10.1590/1414-431X20133163
- Parents’ and Children’s Acceptance of Skim Chocolate Milks Sweetened by Monk Fruit and Stevia Leaf Extracts—Li—2015—Journal of Food Science—Wiley Online Library. (n.d.). Retrieved September 29, 2021, from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1750-3841.12835
- Suri, S., Kathuria, D., Mishra, A., & Sharma, R. (2020). Phytochemical composition and pharmacological impact of natural non-calorie sweetener- monk fruit (Siraitia grosvenorii): A review. Nutrition & Food Science, 51(6), 897–910. https://doi.org/10.1108/NFS-09-2020-0350
- Ban, Q., Cheng, J., Sun, X., Jiang, Y., Zhao, S., Song, X., & Guo, M. (2020). Effects of a synbiotic yogurt using monk fruit extract as sweetener on glucose regulation and gut microbiota in rats with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Journal of Dairy Science, 103(4), 2956–2968. https://doi.org/10.3168/jds.2019-17700
- Li, F., Yang, F., Liu, X., Wang, L., Chen, B., Li, L., & Wang, M. (2017). Cucurbitane glycosides from the fruit of Siraitia grosvenori and their effects on glucose uptake in human HepG2 cells in vitro. Food Chemistry, 228, 567–573. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodchem.2017.02.018
- Liu, C., Dai, L., Liu, Y., Rong, L., Dou, D., Sun, Y., & Ma, L. (2016). Antiproliferative Activity of Triterpene Glycoside Nutrient from Monk Fruit in Colorectal Cancer and Throat Cancer. Nutrients, 8(6), 360. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu8060360
- David, L. A., Maurice, C. F., Carmody, R. N., Gootenberg, D. B., Button, J. E., Wolfe, B. E., Ling, A. V., Devlin, A. S., Varma, Y., Fischbach, M. A., Biddinger, S. B., Dutton, R. J., & Turnbaugh, P. J. (2014). Diet rapidly and reproducibly alters the human gut microbiome. Nature, 505(7484), 559–563. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature12820
- Ban, Q., Liu, Z., Yu, C., Sun, X., Jiang, Y., Cheng, J., & Guo, M. (2020). Physiochemical, rheological, microstructural, and antioxidant properties of yogurt using monk fruit extract as a sweetener. Journal of Dairy Science, 103(11), 10006–10014. https://doi.org/10.3168/jds.2020-18703
- Shivani, Thakur, B. K., Mallikarjun, C. P., Mahajan, M., Kapoor, P., Malhotra, J., Dhiman, R., Kumar, D., Pal, P. K., & Kumar, S. (2021). Introduction, adaptation and characterization of monk fruit (Siraitia grosvenorii): A non-caloric new natural sweetener. Scientific Reports, 11(1), 6205. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-85689-2
ltd, R. and M. (n.d.). 2021 Monk Fruit Sweetener Market—Size, Share, COVID Impact Analysis and Forecast to 2027. Retrieved September 29, 2021, from https://www.researchandmarkets.com/reports/5265255/2021-monk-fruit-sweetener-market-size-share