Monk fruit (also known as 罗汉果 luó hàn guǒ) is a fruit of Siraitia grosvenorii that is native to southern China and northern Thailand. It is commonly used in Chinese medicine for its ability to soothe a sore throat and reduce phlegm. Of recent years, monk fruit sweetener has grown in popularity for its low glycemic impact and zero-calorie properties.
The plant is mainly cultivated in the mountainous areas of Guilin in Guangxi, but it can also be found in the southern Chinese provinces, such as Guangdong, Hunan, Guizhou and Jiangxi.
Appearance and flavour
The dried fruit can be identified by its thin, brown, hard shell the size of a tennis ball.
It has a distinctive sweetness with a touch of bitterness. It’s a little of an acquired taste, since not everyone is fond of its unique flavour.
Properties and benefits
While more research is needed to ascertain the health benefits to humans, the effects described below are based on anecdotal reports and existing research on animals and cells.
According to TCM, the fruit has “cooling” properties. It can help reduce “heatiness” and detoxify the body.
Expectorant and antitussive
The fruit may help relieve sore throats, coughs, lung congestion and other respiratory conditions.
Luo han guo contains mogrosides, which are antioxidants that inhibit histamine release from mast cells, therefore reducing allergies.
Anti-inflammatory and antioxidation
Mogrosides also has anti-inflammatory properties and helps in reducing the production of phlegm.
The antioxidant property protects the cells in your body from damage, helping to slow down ageing.
The polysaccharide in monk fruit significantly decreases sugar, total cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and increases HDL cholesterol, which may contribute to an improvement in fat metabolism.
May inhibit cancer cell growth
Mogroside IV has been proven to suppress cancer activities in the body. Mogroside V encourages natural cell death and prevents the formation of new blood vessels, both of which are important in preventing cancer proliferation.
Uses of monk fruit
Although it has medicinal properties, luo han guo can be obtained without a TCM prescription. It’s often used by average households to make herbal tea and soups.
The discovery of monk fruit extract’s sweetness without the calories and carbohydrates elevated its status as a natural sweetener suitable for even the diabetic.
Monk fruit sweetener
Monk fruit sweetener is an extract of luo han guo that is between 100-300 times sweeter than regular sugar. It is valued for its sweetness without the calories or carbohydrates, perfect for people looking to lose weight and diabetics with a sweet tooth.
Why is monk fruit expensive?
Luo han guo is notoriously challenging to grow, harvest, dry and export, which is why luo han guo and its derivatives (such as monk fruit sweeteners and extracts) are expensive.
Where to buy monk fruit?
Luo han guo is commonly found in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) halls and sometimes in supermarkets. They are usually sold dried, which explains its shrivelled, brown appearance. The fresh fruit, however, is hard to purchase, since it ferments and goes rancid rather quickly.