The intense sweetener from monk fruit, or luo han guo, is said to be up to 300 times sweeter than sugar and has been used for many years to sweeten products in parts of Asia.
Although it has yet to be approved for use in foods and drinks in Europe, a branded version of the ingredient – Fruit-Sweetness – has the green light for use in the United States. Its manufacturer, New-Zealand-based BioVittoria is now planning to submit for regulatory approval in Europe.
However, although analysts point to increased interest in the sweetener, they also note that major food and drink firms are still cautious in their approach to the ingredient.
“Although it does mirror stevia in that it has been allowed in parts of Asia for many years, stevia does have the added advantage of being used in processed foods and drinks in Japan for many years, developing formulations and applications that could then be adapted more easily for the Western market,” says Innova Market Insights.
“Where it has yet to score is in being taken up by the major food and drinks companies and used in their products.”
An ‘emerging natural sweetener’
Mintel also points to luo han guo as one substance that has recently emerged in the market to address the increasing consumer desire for ‘natural’ products.
Information from its Global new Products Database (GNPD) reveals that 56 products containing luo han guo have been launched globally since 2002. Most of these (19) come from China, followed by Hong Kong (7), the US (7), Taiwan (5) and Malaysia (5).
“In the US, Neway Sweet Sensation is a natural sweetener that is made from the whole fruit of luo han guo and is free from sugar, aspartame, sucralose and saccharine. The product is suitable for diabetics and contains no calories,” says Mintel.
“In Mexico, Super Life Natural Sweetener is a low glycemic sweetener that also provides prolonged energy. This product is free from sucralose, aspartame and phenylalanine and is suitable for diabetics. It is kosher certified, contains more than 20 per cent of prebiotic fiber and is low in sodium. The product derives its sweetness from the plant derivative luo han guo, an emerging natural sweetener.”
Fruit-Sweetness from BioVittoria, which is around 150 times sweeter than sugar, is produced via a patented process from fruit cultivated using the firm’s patented plant varieties at a processing facility in Hamilton, new Zealand.
According to the company’s chief executive David Thorrold, the intensity of the sweetness in the extracts is directly proportional to levels of a compound called Mogroside V in the flesh of the fruit
"Since we received our no objection letter from the FDA we have had phenomenal interest. A number of products incorporating Fruit-Sweetness have already been launched in the US, and there are projects underway using it at most of the world’s largest food and beverage companies,” he told FoodNavigator sister publication FoodManufacture.co.uk earlier this month.
“We will be applying for regulatory approval [in Europe] in the near future,” he said.