So here’s the not-so-sweet news on the current sugar situation in the United States: According to the CDC, adults are consuming about 300 calories of added sugar. Every. Single. Day.
You’re probably thinking, “300 calories doesn’t sound like a lot more.”
FYI: That’s a lot more. According to the American Heart Association, it’s roughly double the recommended amount of sugar for women per day (100 calories or 6 teaspoons) and men (150 calories or 9 teaspoons). Now that consumers are becoming more aware of added sugars, low-calorie sweeteners have found a place at the table, and monk fruit is the latest member to join the party.
But what exactly is monk fruit and how does it stack up to other sweeteners?
What is Monk Fruit?
A fruit that’s native to Asia, monk fruit goes by a few different monikers — luo han guo, Buddhafruit, la han qua, to name a few — but you’ll typically see it on packaging listed as monk fruit extract or monk fruit juice. In its raw form, they look like gigantic green grapes and fit nicely in the palm of your hand. You’ll most likely see it sold in its powdered form or as a natural sweetener in foods like yogurt, ice cream, sweet drinks, and Shakeology.
What’s Old Is New Again
Monk fruit has been cultivated in China and Thailand for centuries and has been used as a folk remedy. Up until recently, monk fruit were grown and harvested by small mom-and-pop farms, but now with the increased demand for natural sugar alternatives, production is scaling up.
Benefits of Monk Fruit
Since monk fruit sweetener is so intense (up to 250 times sweeter than sugar), only a small amount is needed to sweeten a food, which makes it good option for people who are looking to cut back or reduce the amount of calories in their diet without sacrificing the taste. Monk fruit is also low in calories, is on the FDA’s list of accepted “high-intensity” sweeteners and is Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS).
Different Forms of Monk Fruit
Monk fruit can be found in two forms – juice concentrate and extract form – and are the result of a process that is fairly au natural. To make the concentrate, the fruit is crushed to release the juice, which is then combined with hot water to create an infusion. This is then filtered, resulting in a sweet juice concentrate which is about 20 times sweeter than regular sugar. The extract form is further processed by drying the juice into a powder that’s about 100 to 250 times sweeter than table sugar.
Monk Fruit vs. Other Sugar Substitutes
Natural food companies are beginning to gravitate towards monk fruit because of its nutritional profile and more natural production process. More importantly, it doesn’t have a bitter aftertaste, which is a common complaint of most other sugar substitutes on the market today.
In terms of relative sweetness, monk fruit falls in somewhere in the middle of the pack: Sugar substitutes such as aspartame, saccharin and stevia are about 200 times more sweet than table sugar. Sucralose is on the high end, about 600 times sweeter. Monk fruit is about 100 to 250 times sweeter and can be pricier than most other sweeteners.
Monk Fruit in Your Food
You can find monk fruit in stores as a low-calorie sweetener on its own or as an ingredient in everyday food products. In fact, you’ve probably already had monk fruit sweetener without even knowing it. It’s currently in more than 800 food products on the market, including baked goods, ice cream, yogurt, soda, and in products made by major brands like Starbucks, Chobani, and Dole.
You can also find monk fruit blends (combinations of monk fruit extract and other sweeteners) that you can use to sweeten your coffee, tea, or foods like sauces, desserts, and dressings.
Most monk fruit blends can also be used in cooking and baking. How much you use in comparison to the amount of sugar called for depends on the brand — you’ll want to check out the product’s packaging and website for tips and suggestions on how to use it for best results.