You’re probably super familiar with Stevia, the popular sugar substitute derived from the Stevia plant. but what about monk fruit extract, another calorie-free sweetener that’s become trendy among health-conscious eaters over the last few years?
According to the FDA, monk fruit extract can taste up to 250 times sweeter than standard table sugar—thanks to chemical compounds called mogrosides, which give the fruit its characteristic sweetness. But where does monk fruit come from, and is this sweetener actually good for you? We reached out to a nutritionist for the facts.
Benefits of monk fruit extract
Monk fruit extract comes from monk fruit, or luo han guo, a melon-like fruit that grows on a vine and is native to parts of China and Thailand. “The sweetener is made by juicing the fruit and processing it into crystal form,” explains Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, New York City–based nutrition expert and author of Eating in Color. (Monk fruit extract is also made into a liquid.)
With zero calories, the FDA-approved extract doesn’t raise blood sugar levels like standard table sugar does. That makes it a great alternative for diabetics, according to Largeman-Roth.
Drawbacks of monk fruit extract
Monk fruit extract may be considered "natural," but that doesn’t mean it’s unprocessed or 100% pure. “Monk fruit is often combined with other sweeteners, or with sugar and molasses,” notes Largeman-Roth. The problem? If it’s combined with sugar, it’s no longer calorie-free.
Yet combining monk fruit extract with another non-nutritive (in other words, zero-calorie) sweetener, like the popular alcohol erythritol, isn’t ideal either. “Erythritol can cause gastrointestinal issues like gas and diarrhea, especially among people with IBS,” says Largeman-Roth.
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Research also suggests that sweetening food and drinks can actually intensify sugar cravings, not satisfy them. “My overall philosophy on sweeteners is that Americans are used to things tasting incredibly sweet, so I caution against overuse of artificial and naturally derived but calorie-free sweeteners that can taste hundreds of times sweeter than sugar,” says Largeman-Roth.
Where to buy monk fruit extract
Monk fruit extract is available in retail stores and online. For discounted Lakanto monkfruit sweetener, head to Thrive Market’s website ($6; thrivemarket.com). Monk Fruit in the Raw is available at Walmart ($7; walmart.com) and Amazon ($7; amazon.com).
How to use monk fruit extract
Like other sweeteners, monk fruit extract can be added to foods or drinks to enhance sweetness without excess calories. Be sure to use it sparingly. “You can add monk fruit extract to beverages, oatmeal, baked goods, and other things that you’d like to taste sweeter,” says Largeman-Roth. “Just remember that you only need to use a tiny amount because it tastes so much sweeter than sugar.”