The alarming incidence of diabetes in the population of developed countries is pushing more and more the food industry toward the scientific development and market availability of natural alternatives to the different sugars added to foods and beverages.
One of the ingredients that is recently attracting the greatest interest as a natural non-sugar sweetener is stevia, but it seems that an Asian fruit derivative may soon compete with the leaf extract from South America.
Monk fruit (binomial name: Siraitia grosvenorii; also known as ‘luo han guo’) has significant advantages over stevia regarding taste and ease of formulation, even though stevia has a much lower cost in use, and this is the reason that stevia has a larger market share than monk fruit.
Overall, how do the two natural sweeteners compare in formulations? Two aspects can be considered to prefer monk fruit to stevia:
- Stevia and monk fruit have equal sweetening capacities (about 200–250 times higher than sugar). However, there are times when one ingredient may work better than the other due to its flavor profile. In particular, stevia works better in a citrus and acidic environment, while stand-alone monk fruit or stevia + monk fruit blends may work better in vanilla-alike flavors and basic pH environments, e.g., most dairy products, protein powders, cereals, bakery, and chocolate items.
- Monk fruit sweetener suppliers say monk fruit is relatively easy to formulate with, lacking the bitter, metallic, and licorice aftertaste conventionally associated with stevia. One of the reasons stevia/monk fruit blends exist is that both ingredients work well together (an example is Steviva’s MonkSweet LS). Furthermore, at high doses of mogrosides V, the main component responsible for natural sweetness in monk fruit, confers fermented fruity notes to the food formulations, making monk fruit-based mixes more naturally palatable than stevia.
Natural sweeteners are a valid alternative to the use of sugar in foods and beverages. However, alternative sweetening ingredients, such as stevia and monk fruit, make sense when not used as the only pretext to attract the public to buy. In the case of chocolate, for example, replacing the part of sugar with a mixture comprising other ‘natural ingredients’ declared do not convince the lovers of short ingredient lists, like the undersigned.
In the absence of more persuasive progress on the market, I stick to purchase food products that have the lowest possible percentage of sugar and to considerably limit its amount in homemade pastry.