About 300 times sweeter than sugar, the monk fruit — which looks like a small, green melon — is the latest all-natural sweetener to edge its way into the global food and beverage market. The cool new all-natural, zero-calorie weapon against obesity and diabetes is already flooding markets in the West, and may be well on its way to India.
So far, the biggest player among natural sweeteners is stevia, a plant that’s been used in Paraguay and Brazil for hundreds of years for its sweetening and medicinal properties.
Gift from China
The monk fruit, also known as luo han guo, is likewise touted as an all-natural sweetener and grows on steep forested mountains in southwest China, on small-scale local farms. It’s been used for years as a sweetener in Asia and is touted as a zero-calorie ingredient ideal for diabetic patients.
In an interview with trade magazine FoodNavigator.com last week, New Zealand-based BioVittoria — the largest producer and processor of monk fruit in the world — said it’s confident that its monk fruit sweetener, Fruit-Sweetness, will be available in beverages commercially this year. The product is 150 times sweeter than sugar.
FlatBelly Protein Shake, a whey protein drink of US’ Maverick Brands, will be the first to launch a beverage using Fruit-Sweetness. Talking Rain Beverage Company in Washington is also developing a flavoured water formulated with the monk-fruit sweetener. After the US Food and Drug Administration affirmed the sweetener’s status as Generally Recognized As Safe, BioVittoria has been aggressively going after markets.
According to market researcher Mintel, new US launches of monk fruit-sweetened products for this year include cereals, a protein meal replacement drink from Biochem, probiotic drink mix sachets and a table top sweetener. Monk fruit-based products are expected to enter the Indian market by next year.