Monk fruit, a Zen-like sounding natural sweetener, has become a favorite among low-carb eaters and keto aficionados.
Also known as luo han guo, this up-and-coming sweetener is gleaned from a small round sweet melon fruit grown in China and Southeast Asia. Lore has it that Buddhist monks in the 13th century were the first to cultivate the fruit, and hence its name. The sweetener is created by removing the seeds and skin of the monk fruit and crushing it to collect the juice, which is then processed into a concentrated powdered and liquid form. Monk fruit has been used as a natural remedy in traditional Eastern medicine for centuries, and the sweetener has recently become more widely available in the United States in powdered and liquid forms— the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved its use as a sweetener in 2010, deeming it “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS), which means there is an expert consensus that this food ingredient is safe for its intended use with no recognized negative side effects.
For many, monk fruit sweetener is appealing for four major reasons.
- It’s unbelievably sweet—roughly 200 times sweeter than standard sugar, so a little goes a long way.
- It has a glycemic index of zero, so it won’t drive up your blood sugar levels.
- It has virtually no carbohydrate calories in its pure powdered or liquid form. The compounds that give monk fruit its over-the-top sweetness are called mogrosides, which, unlike simple carbs such as sucrose and fructose, are not absorbed in the upper gastrointestinal tract and, in turn, do not contribute calories to our diet. However, some manufacturers mix monk fruit with different sweeteners to balance out its sweet intensity, which may slightly impact calorie levels.
- People find that neutral-tasting monk fruit sweetener is free of the unappetizing flavors that befall some other sugar substitutes.
Since it has no direct impact on blood sugar levels, monk fruit sweetener
appears to be a good option for people with or at risk for diabetes. But research addressing the impact this sweetener has on this demographic is sorely lacking.
Some test-tube and animal studies suggest that mogrosides extracted from monk fruit may have anticancer and antioxidant properties, which could help protect our cells from the damaging effects of free radicals. Further research is needed to understand if dosages typically consumed by humans would have any benefit.
How to Use Monk Fruit
You can use monk fruit sweetener in multiple forms—granules, powders, and liquids. You can add it to beverages like tea, oatmeal, yogurt, pudding, baked goods, and other things that you’d like to taste a bit sweeter. Because it’s stable at high temperatures, monk fruit sweetener can be used in baked goods like muffins. Just remember that you only need to use a small amount because it tastes so much sweeter than sugar. When you are new to using monk fruit sweetener in your cooking, it’s best to follow manufacturer directions for best results.