Updated: Mar 30, 2020
Sweetness comes in a beautiful variety of packages beyond sugar--one of which is found in the monk fruit, or luo han guo fruit. A cousin to the cucumber and melon, legend holds that this fruit was named after the Chinese monks who first harvested it in the 13th century. Today, we have access to this dynamic fruit via its extracted sweetener.
To create the sweetener, the pulp and seeds are juiced and dehydrated, leaving a concentrated powder. Surprisingly, the sweetness of the monk fruit extract does not come from the glucose and fructose found minimally in the fruit, but rather the unique mogrosides which are an antioxidant in the fruit. This extract is 100-250 times sweeter than regular sugar and is often used to sprinkle on foods or added to liquids. As this is a new sweetener to me, I sampled it by creating a chocolate avocado pudding in which I added about a 1/4 teaspoon of monk fruit powder. It created a very gentle and natural- tasting sweetness--no bitterness or aftertaste.
Monk fruit sweetener boasts an impressive list of benefits. First of all, this extract has a zero glycemic load/index, and as mentioned above, it is does not contain the glucose or fructose of typical sugars. This makes it a soothing sweetener for healthy blood sugar balance and maintenance. Specifically, studies have shown that its compounds provide support for proper insulin secretion by the pancreas.  Secondly, the antioxidant mogrosides offer cancer- fighting effects as they break down free radicals. This is the opposite of sugar which increases inflammation and free radicals. (A “free radical” or “oxidant” is an uncharged electron that can damage cells, while an “antioxidant” is a positively charged molecule that helps prevent or stop damage from oxidants.) In addition, the antioxidant effects also improve our mitochondrial health in our individual cells. This promotes longevity, prevents plaquing in the arteries (which lends to heart disease), and supports seasonal allergies by reducing histamine responses caused by inflammation.   Supporting this modern research, the Chinese and other Asian cultures have historically used the monk fruit for these medicinal benefits for centuries.
So, are there any objections to consider when incorporating the monk fruit sweetener into your diet? Just as the coconut sugar discussed in last week’s article, monk fruit is not native to our ecology, and thus, must be shipped from the Asian countries where it is produced. This means we pay a steeper grocery bill for its exportation and support our local farmers and businesses less. In addition, it is also important to note that the quality can be objectionable. It is best to purchase an organic source with only one ingredient: organic monk juice. Unfortunately, manufacturers commonly add dextrose (aka, sugar) or other sweeteners, and use chemical solvents to make the extract. I’m pleased with the certified organic extract from Julian Bakery.
In conclusion, I commend this sweetener for its health benefits! From time to time, I plan to enjoy this Asian resource, and relish the knowledge of the wholesome mogrosides at work in my body.