Also known as luo han guo, which means monk fruit in Chinese – it is said to have been first discovered and used by Chinese monks in the Guilin region where Layn is headquartered - the low calorie, natural sweetener could give stevia a run for its money.
Once this regulatory hurdle is overcome and approval for the EU market secure, the company said it will be “on the front line” in Europe’s fight against obesity and sugar-related health problems such as type 2 diabetes.
Layn's final monk fruit extract is available in both powder and liquid form, and is heat stable, pH stable and water-soluble. Already authorised for use in foods and beverages in the US where it has a Generally Recognised as Safe (GRAS) status, monk fruit is up to 350 times sweeter than sugar and does not have any metallic or bitter after notes that other sweeteners have.
President of Layn Europe Luca Pennestri told FoodNavigator it can achieve up to 100% sugar reduction in many applications, while for more challenging foods such as bakery and chocolate, Layn has a proprietary sweetener blend of monk fruit and stevia that can cut sugar by at least half.
Less refined than stevia and 'definitely natural'
“If stevia is considered natural, monk fruit definitely is,” Pennestri said. “It’s less refined and processed, and does not go through the crystallization process that high Reb A requires. Monk fruit extract is 100% from the fruit.
“The process uses water and food grade ethanol only, there are no other chemicals or solvents in the entire process. [We] simply concentrate the active sweetening component out of the fruit.”
Securing a sustainable supply
The majority of Layn’s monk fruit comes from Guilin in the Guangxi region of China where Layn has its headquarters, manufacturing plant and farms.
“Customers used to be concerned with monk fruit supply, because it only comes from one region in the world, with only one crop per year,” said Pannestri. “They are concerned about the sustainability which we have been working on improvements from all aspects.”
This sustainability work has included expanding seedling cultivation, which is done using non-GMO tissue cultures to increase availability, and increasing the crop to two a year on its trial farms.
The quality and yield have proven to be similar to autumn harvest, Pennestri said, and the dual crop should become commercially available in two years, enabling a five- to
six-month supply of fruit annually.
The firm has also been preparing to expand cultivation outside Guilin. It has identified three locations in neighbouring provinces that are suitable for growing the fruit and is ready to move cultivation there when needed.
“[We also] have contingency plans to utilize its freezing storage capacity in the new facilities, which can store an entire year’s purchase of fresh fruit for future processing. This means we don’t need to wait or rely on the next year’s fruit to meet any increasing demand between crops.”
EFSA dossier now complete
At the time of publication of this article, EFSA's website says the Authority is still waiting for Layn to complete its dossier with additional information before beginning the evaluation, but Pennestri said it submitted this yesterday (3 August).
“They wanted more detailed information on the monk fruit juice, a new product. They needed to know the percentage of all the ingredients it contains, what type of protein and so on.”
Some parts of Layn’s dossier will be treated as confidential.
The firm, which was established in 1995, claims to be the largest manufacturer of monk fruit. It has a manufacturing plant in China and an R&D centre with 200 employees in Shanghai as well as offices in the US, Latin America and Europe.
Around 70% of the company’s revenue comes from low-calorie natural sweeteners and flavours, mainly stevia and monk fruit extract, both of which make up around 50% each.
Layn will be showcasing its monk fruit extract at FIE in Frankfurt and Food Matters Live in London.