Monk Fruit: The Skinny on this Natural Sweetener

What’s sweeter than sugar and doesn’t have any calories? Monk fruit! This plant-based ingredient offers a way to enjoy sweet treats without the added calories from sugar. Monk fruit, also known as luo han guo in China and Thailand, where it is native, is a fruit which is harvested and eaten whole, juiced, boiled and strained into tea, and, most commonly, dried and pulverized and made into a sweetener. This sweetener is used in many foods and beverages and can also be purchased as a powdered sweetener to use at home.

The reason why monk fruit works as a sweetener is that it is about 200 times sweeter than table sugar, so you only need a tiny amount for flavor. What makes it so sweet? The fruit has compounds called mogrosides, made up of a mogrol structure and glucose. Mogrol is not absorbed during digestion, and thus does not contribute any calories; the glucose is used as energy by the colon. Most of monk fruit is excreted as waste, but it contains beneficial nutrition as well. The fruit is a great source of vitamin C, a natural antioxidant, which helps keep you healthy.

You can use monk fruit as a sweetener in beverages, such as this recipe for Strawberry Aguas Frescas.

Is Monk fruit Safe?

There have been no proven adverse effects of consuming monk fruit, though only a limited number of studies have been done and more research is needed. It is comforting to know that some Asian cultures have consumed the fruit for thousands of years without any known adverse effects. Monk fruit is a good option for those with diabetes, who need to maintain a steady blood sugar level, as it does not raise levels of blood sugar. It is also a strategy for reducing added sugars in the diet to help maintain healthy weight. It can be added to beverages, such as sodas and non-natural juices, as a sugar substitute, or as your own addition for sweetening beverages or desserts.

Use monk fruit as a sweetener in creamy desserts, such as this Easy Chocolate Chia Pudding with Strawberries.

How to Use It

This can be a good sugar alternative, as it can be subbed in most everything you’d sweeten with sugar. Just be mindful that it’s 200 times sweeter than table sugar, so a little monk fruit sweetener goes a long way. Although not exact, a teaspoon of monk fruit sweetener equals about a cup of table sugar. But, always start with tiny amounts and taste for sweetness as you go. Here are a few fun ways to put this sweetener to use:

  • Cheers! Sweeten hot and cold tea, coffee, or hot chocolate; add to lemonade and sparkling water.
  • Brighten Breakfast when you add monk fruit to oatmeal and other cereals, yogurt, and smoothies. Try it on berries and other fruits that need a tad more sweetness, too.
  • Bake Away! Muffins, cookies, brownies, or quickbreads—monk fruit sweetener bakes well and you’ll love the result.
  • Freeze It. Ice cream, frozen yogurt, popsicles, and sorbet are naturals with this sweetener.

For other food and nutrition blogs, check out:

How to Cook with Fresh Turmeric Root
How to Cook with Dragon Fruit
How to Cook with Bitter Melon

Written by Brooke Ellis, dietetic intern, with Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN

Images by Sharon Palmer

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