Monk Fruit: How Sweet It is!

What is sweeter than conventional table sugar but does not cause tooth decay, raise blood sugar, or cause weight gain? Among choices in sweeteners, which sweetener is obtained from natural sources? And are there natural sweeteners that do not have an unpleasant bitter aftertaste, but just provide a clean sense of sweetness to foods?

We can cross off any sweetener off the list that contains sucrose (table sugar), such as brown sugar or coconut sugar. We can eliminate agave nectar that is 90% fructose, making it even worse than high-fructose corn syrup in causing weight gain, increased blood sugar, and other metabolic distortions. Honey and maple syrup are natural but contain an excess of fructose, making it little different than high-fructose corn syrup, also. We can eliminate sorbitol, mannitol, maltitol, and lactitol, since they have effects similar to sugar and cause diarrhea. Cross off saccharine, aspartame, and sucralose, since they alter bowel flora (the microorganisms inhabiting your intestines), and can be associated with weight gain.

Two sweeteners fit that entire list of requirements: monk fruit and stevia.

Monk fruit is a melon that grows on trees in the mountains of southern Asia, a hardy plant that has been harvested for many centuries. Because Buddhist monks were among the most enthusiastic harvesters of the fruit, chosen for its effects on suppressing cough and sore throat as well as its sweetening properties, the lo han guo melon has been dubbed “monk fruit.”

Monks appreciated the intense sweetness of the juice from the melon but, of course, did not realize that the fruit’s potent sweetness came with no calories. Therein lies the incredible potential of the juice from the monk fruit for our modern palates: sweetness but with none of the health downsides of sucrose (table sugar) such as high blood sugar and weight gain, sourced naturally simply by pressing the juice from the fruit, with a clean, sweet taste.

Stevia also fits the bill but comes with taste and palatability issues for many. Unlike stevia, monk fruit lacks the bitter aftertaste that many stevia users complain about. Instead, monk fruit yields sweetness with no peculiar or “off” flavors. But, because monk fruit is such a concentrated source of sweetness, it is often combined with other sweeteners to bulk it up to make measurement a simpler matter. Erythritol, another natural sweetener found in fruit, is most commonly chosen and has many of the same characteristics as monk fruit, including not causing tooth decay or a rise in blood sugar. (Some manufacturers choose maltodextrin or dextrose to combine with monk fruit, but these are forms of sugar and are best avoided.)

Our preferred combination therefore contains monk fruit and erythritol in a proportion that allows you to use much less sweetener in total compared to other sweeteners, such as the brands that are 1:1 in proportion to sugar.  So in our Virtue sweetener, we increased the quantity of monk fruit and reduced the erythritol so that only 1/4 cup Virtue equals the sweetening power of one cup of sugar. One additional benefit of this unique combination is that it is much less costly to use, typically costing only a fraction of the cost of other sweeteners.  See for yourself and compare the price of a bag of Virtue to 2.5lbs of these 1:1 sweeteners!