Monk Fruit: What It Is, Its Benefits, and Counterindications
There are more and more alternatives every day to replace white sugar, whether they be honey, agave syrup, or more recent additions, such as erythritol and stevia. However, now there’s another plant from China to take to the stage: the monk fruit.
Although it’s still not around as much, its use is gradually spreading in sugary drinks and other products. Perhaps you’ve already tried some of them. However, if you don’t know about monk fruit, we’ll tell you much more in the following article.
What is the monk fruit?
The monk fruit (Siraitia grosvenorii) is a vine plant of the Cucurbitaceae family. It originates in southern China, where it’s known as Luo Han Guo. It’s believed that its name derives from the fact that its first cultivators were Buddhist monks.
The first mentions of this plant date back to the 13th century in the records of Chinese monks in the Guilin region. It was (and still is) used as a traditional remedy for colds, sore throats, and constipation. However, due to the difficulty of cultivation, the plant did not spread to other parts.
In the twentieth century, it became known in England. However, it was not until the 1980s when the first findings on its sweetening capacity were reported.
The fruit is small and round (about 5 to 7 centimeters in diameter). The skin is hard, thin, and covered with thin hairs. The color is yellow, green, and brown. The inside can be eaten fresh, and the peel is used to make infusions.
The highlight of its flavor is the sweetness enhanced when talking about the powder and liquid extract of the fruit. The main responsible for this property is the mogrosides, glycoside compounds extracted from different plants and used as sugar substitutes.
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The benefits of monk fruit
Although its use in China dates back many centuries, this is a sweetener that has not been studied as much as others on the market. Most of the tests have been carried out on animals. It’s a new product. Therefore, it hasn’t been possible to test the long-term effects.
However, taking this into account, it is possible to list several strengths and advantages that arise from monk fruit extract.
Let’s take a look.
It’s suitable for people with diabetes
The American Diabetes Association’s Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes states that for those who are accustomed to sugar-sweetened products, non-nutritive sweeteners may be a good alternative to sugar, honey, and agave syrup.
Although the use of these does not appear to impact glucose regulation, they do facilitate lower calorie and carbohydrate intake. Therefore, they’re a good option if sweetened beverages and foods are being consumed.
However, the same agency strongly encourages a decrease in the intake of sweetened beverages and foods. It suggests opting for alternatives without these additives instead.
It has no calories and a neutral taste
Monk fruit extract has no calories or carbohydrates. This is why it’s often one of the sweeteners of choice for people who follow very low carbohydrate diets, such as the ketogenic diet.
In addition, its taste is fairly neutral and, when exposed to heat, it does not lose properties. Therefore, it’s a perfect replacement for sugar both for sweetening and cooking and baking.
It doesn’t cause digestive problems
In principle, there are no known unpleasant effects from its intake. This is important because some sweeteners of the same type can cause gas, bloating, or diarrhea in some people.
Monk fruit presents some beneficial properties
The composition of the monk fruit is characterized by the presence of carbohydrates and some minerals. However, it also contains other components such as flavonoids, phenolic acids, glycosides, and terpenes that are at the base of its medicinal activity.
Apart from the properties recognized by the Chinese pharmacopeia, other studies have determined some of its benefits. As they point out in the magazine Future Medicinal Chemistry, these are some of the most outstanding benefits of monk fruit:
- Mogrosides have been shown to lower total cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood in diabetic mice.
- The monk fruit can counteract the action of free radicals and prevent lipid peroxidation. This is related to a lower risk of suffering health problems such as atherosclerosis or inflammatory diseases.
- Mogrosides exert an anti-inflammatory activity, preventing the release of some molecules such as prostaglandins.
Different ways to use monk fruit as a sweetener
The whole fruit has a very short shelf life, and it’s still complicated to find it far from the countries where it’s grown. Therefore, the whole fresh fruit is rarely consumed. Instead, it’s usually used in herbal teas.
The sweetener is made from an extract of dried fruit. It can be used in food and drinks, whether hot or cold. When dosing, it should be taken into account that it’s 150 to 250 times sweeter than table sugar.
It can be used in the following situations:
- In coffee, tea, or any type of infusion as a substitute for sugar.
- In soft drinks, lemonades, and juices.
- To sweeten dairy products such as yogurt, kefir, milkshakes, or ice cream.
- To replace sugar in preparing any kind of sweet and dessert: cookies, biscuits, cakes, puddings, etc.. In this case, it is necessary to consider that the texture, taste, and appearance may be different.
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The possible disadvantages of monk fruit
Most regulatory bodies state that monk fruit is a safe product and suitable even for pregnant women and children. This is the case of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Its use is permitted as a sugar substitute, and so far, no harmful effects from its intake have been observed. However, it should be noted that this is a very new product, and its long-term effects have not been studied.
The most prominent risk could be in the form of an allergic reaction. People with allergies to plants of the same family (pumpkin, watermelon, or melon) should perhaps be more cautious with their consumption.
Monk fruit is delicate, ferments very quickly, and its cultivation is problematic. These are some reasons that explain the difficulty of finding it in the shops and its higher price.
Monk fruit extract is an interesting sweetener for people with diabetes. However, some of the products in which it is used may add other sweeteners that affect blood glucose.
Some final thoughts on monk fruit
Monk fruit is a natural sweetener from a plant cultivated in China. It has gained fame as a healthier sugar substitute in recent years due to some of its advantages. It’s a safe additive that’s suitable for very low carbohydrate diets.
However, its cultivation and export are still limited compared to the increased demand for this product. For this reason, it isn’t easy to find in most stores and is often used in the food industry to sweeten beverages. It’s a very new product in the industry, and its benefits have not been tested on humans. Therefore, the best advice is to use it sparingly and small amounts.