Monk fruit is the fruit of a vine in the Cucurbitaceae family, which includes squash, melons, and cucumbers, and is native to southern China. It is grown mainly to extract its juice for use as a sweetener.
What Is Monk Fruit Sweetener?
But monk fruit is not grown to be eaten, but rather, to be processed to extract a compound called mogrosides, which is about 250 times sweeter than ordinary sucrose, or table sugar, while imparting zero calories.
How this works is complicated, but the mogroside is a molecule consisting of carbon and hydrogen with a number of glucose molecules attached to it. Our mouths perceive the sweetness of the glucose, but the glucose is not absorbed into our bloodstream, instead making its way into the large intestine where it is consumed by the bacteria that live there.
The fruit itself spoils quickly, so the fresh fruit is not seen much outside of China, and when dried it takes on flavors and aromas regarded as unpalatable.
Monk fruit sweetener is made by washing the fruit, removing the skins, and crushing the pulp, then adding water to form a slurry, spinning to extract the liquid, then heating and filtering it to produce a concentrated liquid. After treating it with activated carbon and other substances to remove undesirable flavors, it's dried into a crystal form and then packaged.
Because it is so much sweeter than sugar, only a tiny amount is needed, so it's typically combined with some inert ingredients so that it has the approximate same volume as sugar (although the relative sweetness can vary from brand to brand). Sometimes it is sold as a liquid, which is added to food and drinks using a dropper.
How to Use Monk Fruit Sweetener
Monk fruit sweetener can be used just like ordinary sugar, as a sweetener in baking, desserts, and drinks such as coffee and tea. Many varieties of monk fruit sweeteners are made to be used on a 1:1 basis so that one teaspoon is as sweet as one teaspoon of sugar. But read the label to be sure. There are also liquid forms that can be added in drops, and used for flavoring water or carbonated water, coffee and tea.
One approach that some cooks take is to reduce the sugar in their cooking by substituting half the sugar for monk fruit sweetener. By reducing the sugar by half, this reduces the calories from sugar by half while retaining the traditional sweetness that sugar imparts.
What Does It Taste Like?
Many sugar alternatives can have a strange or bitter aftertaste, and monk fruit is no exception. However, the aftertaste is less harsh than some other products, like stevia. Keep in mind many monk fruit sweeteners are combined with erythritol, which is another sweetener made from sugar alcohol. It is difficult for some people to digest and has somewhat of an aftertaste of its own. The bottom line is monk fruit sweeteners are sweet, but they do not taste exactly like sugar.
Monk Fruit Recipes
Substitute monk fruit sweetener for some or all the sugar in any of these recipes.
Where to Buy Monk Fruit Sweetener
Monk fruit sweeteners can be purchased at specialty food stores like Whole Foods, health food stores, and online.
Monk fruit sweetener has a shelf life of 2 to 3 years if stored in cool and dry conditions. Keep the package tightly sealed and away from heat sources.
In terms of nutrition, monk fruit sweetener provides no calories, which is exactly the point. It also contains zero carbs and is rated at zero on the glycemic index. Since it isn't absorbed into the bloodstream, it doesn't raise blood sugar levels, and therefore is a good option for diabetics. In terms of benefits, using monk fruit sweetener instead of sugar can reduce your total caloric intake.
Monk fruit sweetener is available in powdered form, both pure and combined with other sweeteners. Of the powdered varieties, it is available in white, which replicates ordinary granulated sugar, and golden, which replicates raw granulated sugar. There's also a powdered version that can be used like confectioners' sugar.
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