5 Sweet Facts About Monk Fruit Extract
Monk fruit extract is quickly gaining popularity among people seeking out sugar alternatives. It has the advantages of being low in carbs and coming from a natural, plant-based source, unlike many commonly used sugar-free sweeteners. Thinking of giving it a try? Here are five sweet reasons to make the switch.
1. Monk fruit’s sweetness doesn’t come from fructose or glucose.
To make monk fruit extract, the seeds and skin are removed before the fruit is crushed to separate the juice from the pulp. The juice is then processed to extract antioxidants called mogrosides, which is where the intense sweetness comes from.
2. It has zero calories and zero carbs.
Because the mogrosides are separated out from the juice, monk fruit extract has zero calories and carbs. That makes it an ideal sweetener for low-carb baked goods and a safe choice for people with diabetes.
3. It’s paleo and keto.
Monk fruit extract checks all the boxes for paleo and keto lifestyles: plant-based, all-natural, sugar-free and low in carbs. That’s why we use it to add just a hint of sweetness to our Grain-Free Cinnamon Raisin English Muffins!
4. Monk fruit extract is 150-200 times sweeter than sugar.
Yep, monk fruit is extremely sweet, though not quite as saccharine as stevia, which is 200-300 times sweeter than cane sugar. (If you’re wondering, sucralose, the main ingredient in Splenda, is 400-700 times sweeter than sugar—yikes.)
5. It really is named after monks.
Monk fruit (aka luo han guo) is a small gourd native to China and Thailand. It looks a bit like a melon. It got its name from 13th-century Buddhist monks who used it to make medicinal teas. Monk fruit is tricky to grow and doesn’t ship well, which is why you’ll typically only find it in extract form at the grocery store.
Monk Fruit Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits
Barbie Cervoni MS, RD, CDCES, CDN, is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes care and education specialist.
Monk fruit has risen to celebrity status as an alternative sweetener. Also called luo han guo, monk fruit is a small green melon cultivated for centuries by Buddhist luóhàn monks (hence its name).
Unless you live in a sub-tropical region near the mountains (the fruit is native to southern China and northern Thailand), it’s improbable that you will have access to fresh monk fruit. Much of the world’s monk fruit is still grown in its area of origin, and the fruit tends to spoil quickly after it is harvested.
But monk fruit sweetener products have become widely available. To make monk fruit sweetener, the skin and seeds of the fruit are removed. The fruit is then crushed, and the juice is collected. Lastly, the juice is dried and turned into a concentrated powder.
Monk Fruit Nutrition Facts
One packet of monk fruit powder (0.8g) provides 0 calories, 0g of protein, 0.8g of carbohydrates, and 0g of fat. The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA.
- Calories: 0
- Fat: 0g
- Sodium: 0g
- Carbohydrates: 0.8g
- Fiber: 0g
- Sugar: 0g
- Protein: 0g
Monk fruit powder is basically entirely carbs, but the amount contained in a one-packet serving wouldn’t impact blood sugar levels. The sweetness in monkfruit comes from a compound called mogroside, a compound that may help maintain blood glucose metabolism, according to some in vitro and rodent studies.
Monk fruit sweetener is fat-free.
Monk fruit sweetener also does not provide any protein.
Vitamins and Minerals
Although monk fruit itself contains vitamins, such as vitamin C, the powdered sweetener products made from the fruit's juice do not supply any micronutrients.
Monk fruit sweetener is virtually calorie-free, hence its use as a non-nutritive sugar replacement.
Monk fruit contains the natural sugars that many other fruits contain—mainly fructose and glucose. But the intense sweetness actually comes from a different compound, a type of glycoside called mogroside. Glycoside is just another name for a type of simple sugar compound. Mogrosides are a unique antioxidant extracted from the glycoside in monk fruit.
Does Not Affect Blood Sugar
Since monk fruit sweetener doesn’t have calories or sugar, it won’t cause a spike in blood sugar levels. However, when choosing monk fruit products, make sure to check the ingredients label—many products and sweetener blends may still contain sugar or other ingredients that can affect blood glucose.
May Have Healing Effects in Cancer Patients
A study published in the journal Oncogenesis in 2016 reported that when mogroside V obtained from monk fruit was administered in both in vitro and in vivo pancreatic cancer models, it promoted cancer cell apoptosis (cellular death) and “cell cycle arrest,” possibly through the interruption of cancer cell communication. However, this study was done in animals and that more research is needed to support any clinical benefit in humans.
Additionally, a 2011 animal study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry suggested that anti-inflammatory properties of Momordica grosvenori, a variety of monk fruit, have anticancer and antidiabetic effects.
May Promote Weight Loss
Despite its super-sweet taste, the body metabolizes monk fruit differently than it metabolizes table sugar. Research has shown that using low-calorie sweeteners in place of sugar can lead to moderate weight loss, but these studies did not focus specifically on monk fruit.
May Fight Inflammation
The same substance that gives monk fruit its sweetness is the one that holds its anti-inflammatory properties. Preliminary research in mice suggests that the mogrosides in monk fruit show promise for inhibiting the growth of harmful cells and preventing chronic disease.
As with any food, there is a risk of allergy to monk fruit, but the lack of proteins in the sweetener makes this unlikely. However, allergies to another natural sugar substitute, stevia, have been reported.
There are currently no known side effects of monk fruit or monk fruit extract. The fruit is on the Food and Drug Administration’s list of “generally recognized as safe" (GRAS) substances. It's considered safe for everyone, including pregnant women and children.
One animal study on the effects of monk fruit on the body showed no toxic effects. In the study, subjects were given large amounts of luo han guo extract (more than you could probably consume by using monk fruit products), and no negative effects were observed.
However, because monk fruit is relatively new to grocery store shelves, there isn’t any research on the effects of long-term use of monk fruit or monk fruit products. In addition, all of the studies mentioned here were conducted on animals, so more research is needed to determine effects in humans.
As with all products you consume, be sure to monitor your individual response to monk fruit sweetener. If you experience an adverse reaction, it’s probably best to stop using monk fruit.
Typically, monk fruit is sold in powdered form, like sugar. You may also find it as a liquid, sometimes combined with stevia or sugar alcohol. Monk fruit extract can be anywhere from 150 to 250 times sweeter than table sugar, but it has zero calories, shouldn't raise blood sugar, and provides some antioxidants.
Most nonnutritive sugar substitutes, such as sucralose, aspartame, saccharin, and acesulfame-potassium, can cause side effects like gas, bloating, or allergic reactions. There aren’t any known side effects of monk fruit.
Many people prefer sugar alcohols over nonnutritive sweeteners because they seem more “natural.” Common sugar alcohols include xylitol, sorbitol, maltitol, and erythritol. While they are organic compounds derived from sugars, many sugar alcohols cause digestive issues (in certain people) that are more significant than those caused by some nonnutritive sweeteners.
Stevia has many of the same benefits as monk fruit: zero calories, carbohydrates, and sugars. Stevia leaves contain substances known as steviol glycosides, which are estimated to be 200 to 400 times sweeter than table sugar.
The main differences between stevia and monk fruit are cost and availability. Stevia sweeteners are typically more widely available and less expensive than monk fruit sweeteners because monk fruit is difficult to harvest.
Storage and Food Safety
Read package labels to confirm, but usually, you can store monk fruit powder in the zip-top bag you purchased it in (often in the refrigerator).
How to Prepare
Monk fruit is mainly used as an alternative sweetener. You can add monk fruit extract or a monk fruit sweetener blend to almost anything, including:
- Hot tea or iced tea
When baking, some cooks replace only half the sugar in the recipe with monk fruit. But it is best to use a well-tested recipe when using any sugar substitute.