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Luo han guo: little brother of the stevia plant

If you thought stevia was a well-kept secret, check out luo han guo. Originally from the foggy mountains of southern China, these fruits grow on perennial climbers propagated in a damper climate than stevia plants, and try to avoid the sunlight. They are about the size of a kiwifruit, but are dark green in color with a fine down. After drying, they turn brown. They naturally possess some additional, undesired flavors that can be eliminated through extraction processes.

 

After the fruits are harvested, they are dried and through a process of clear water extraction, a powder is extracted from them. This contains luo han guo's main glycoside, called "mogroside", which is approximately 300 times sweeter than sugar. The powder can be used for sweetening teas and soups. 

After the peel and seeds are removed, the fruit's pulp can be used as well, although its shelf life is obviously much shorter. Unwanted flavors are removed from the pulp by adding solvents.

Aside from its sweet taste, the fruit is known to have medicinal values. For centuries it has been used in Asian teas as a treatment for sore throats and pneumonia, and also against sunstroke and fevers because of its cooling effects. 

luo han guoSince it has virtually no calories and its glycemic index is low, luo han guo extract is an excellent sweetener for diabetics, and those looking to lose weight. 

Recent study has suggested that the fruit is an antioxidant and is beneficial for preventing cancer or even helping to treat cancer in early stages. Chinese natives believe that "the monk's fruit" as they call it, plays a big part in their renowned longevity.

There are a number of well-respected brands that offer Luo Han Guo as a sweetener. NuNaturals carries a liquid lo han extract, and a powdered extract is also available that has some good reviews.

 

With about a 10,000 unit produce per year in China, this miracle fruit is cultivated on a very small scale and poses no real threat to the western sweeteners just yet. So, unlike the issues between stevia and the FDA, the Food and Drug Administration has granted the fruit a GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) status, and has not set any restrictions in place for its distribution. You may find the fruit in your local Chinese specialty shops. 

 



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