Monk fruit sweetener is currently trending as a popular consumer choice as an alternative to sugar. Accordingly to market analysis by Data Bridge, the monk fruit sweetener market is expected to witness market growth at a rate of 5.40% in the forecast period of 2021 to 2028 and is expected to reach USD of 0.30 billion by 2028. The market is driven largely by health conscious consumers’ demand for a naturally derived sweetener, diabetic patients, and the awareness of negative health effects of sugar: obesity and diabetes. The added functional properties—anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic—are also driving the growing popularity of monk fruit sweeteners.
What is Monk Fruit Sweetener?
Monk fruit sweetener is derived from monk fruit, a small, green melon, actually a gourd, known as luo hang gu; it is native to southern China. Growing as a vine, monk fruit is an ancient fruit thought to have been cultivated by monks as early as the 13th century in the misty mountains of Guilin and used as a medicinal herb in traditional Chinese medicine. The fruit itself is unpleasant to eat. Instead, it is dried and used to make extract, granulated sweetener, powdered sweetener, and syrup. Monk fruit is marketed under a variety of labels ranging from pure sweetener to added ingredients such as erythritol which may cause digestive issues for sensitive individuals.
The sweetness of monk fruit does not come from glucose or fructose; rather it is from mogrosides, an antioxidant extract of the fruit. Containing zero calories, zero carbs, and paleo-safe, monk fruit sweeteners are approximately 100-250 times sweeter than traditional table sugar. Monk fruit sweetener is less sweet than stevia which is approximately 300 times sweeter than table sugar. When added to foods and beverages, a little goes a long ways.
Are Monk Fruit Sweeteners Safe?
Monk fruit was “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) by the FDA in 2010 for use in food and beverages. While no human studies have been done, monk fruit is said to be safe for diabetics, children, and pregnant and breastfeeding women. Monk fruit sweeteners have not been studied for weight-loss.
What are the Benefits or Drawbacks of Monk Fruit Sweetener?
In addition to the aforementioned benefits, monk fruit is said to be more palatable as it does not have the aftertaste that many users detect in other sweeteners. Further, it does not raise blood glucose levels or have side effects like gas or bloating that are often associated with some sweeteners.
Monk fruit sweetener is pricey due to the expense of processing and importing from China. The price, however, may be offset by the fact that only a small amount is used. For example, only a pinch of pure monk fruit sweetener may be needed for sweetening beverages and smoothies and if used for baking, 1-2 teaspoons may be equivalent to 1 cup of sugar. While it is not readily available at many supermarkets, it can be ordered from various websites. Some consumers have noted that it does not dissolve easily and they do detect a slight aftertaste. The sweetener tends to become sticky when exposed to air so storing in an airtight container avoids this problem.
How is Monk Fruit Sweetener Used in Cooking, Baking, and Preserving?
Monk fruit sweeteners should not be substituted 1:1 for sugar unless the manufacturer indicates so. Some monk fruit sweeteners are made with a mix of sugar alternatives and/or fillers, so be sure to read the label. Recipes and tips for cooking and baking can be found on the website of some of the monk fruit sweetener labels. Available as a granular, powder, and syrup, each type works best in different applications. Stable at high temperatures, the sweetener does not burn or give a sour taste when used for baking and cooking.
Baked products made with a sugar substitute may have different characteristics than those made with sugar. Using a sugar substitute may affect the texture, color, volume, structure, flavor, and keeping qualities. Sugar, like every ingredient, serves a purpose in baked goods beyond adding sweetness and flavor. Sugar contributes to moistness by binding water, provides structure and leavening, aids in browning and crispness via the maillard reaction, and acts as a preservative by slowing bacterial growth. While some functions and characteristics can be replaced by sugar substitutes, others are unique to sugar.
When used for baking, pure monk fruit sweetener may be less desirable as it does not have the bulk that sugar provides to a recipe. When mixed with erythritol, baking is more successful as erythritol adds bulk to the recipe resulting in a product that looks and tastes more like a product made with sugar.
Monk fruit sweetener should not be used for canning. To date, there has been no testing with monk fruit sweeteners to determine their effects on pH in home canned foods. Utah State Extension offers this explanation: “The sweetness of monk fruit does not come from the traditional fructose sugar molecule in the fruit. The monk fruit sweetener chemicals are extracted from the monk fruit and then blended with something to bulk it up. Each product might be different regarding pH and what is called the pH buffering capacity.” For this reason, canning with monk fruit sweeteners is currently not recommended.
Freezer jams and jellies can be successfully made with monk fruit sweeteners along with a freezer pectin. Monk fruit can also be added to fruits prior to freezing.
Monk fruit sweetener is a safe alternative to sugar and one way to reduce consumption of added sugars and/or manage caloric intake. It is important to do your research and know what you are buying for your intended use. Be sure to read the label and use the product correctly.
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