Monk fruit is a member of the gourd family. Native to China, its fruit is 300 times sweeter than sucrose and has been used as a low-calorie sweetener since the 1200s. United States retailers such as Walmart and In The Raw market monk fruit powdered extract as a sugar substitute.
Until recently, monk fruit remained rare in the West because its production was limited almost exclusively to China’s Guangxi and Guangdong mountains. Difficult cultivation meant only small quantities of the dark green fruit were available. Recently, New Zealand-based Biovittoria has established a network of 3,000 growers who produce the fruit that processed into low-calorie sweetener distributed worldwide.
To make monk fruit extract, the fruit is first crushed to release its juices and then macerated in hot water. The resulting infusion is filtered to separate the fruit sugar, which is then spray dried to make a white powder.
Known in the United States since at least the early 20th century, monk fruit extract is now used in no-sugar-added fruit products manufactured by Dole and others. The extract is used in low-calorie sweeteners Stevia (marketed by Layn USA), Nectresse (McNeil Nutritionals) and Truvia (Cargill). Monk fruit extract is also available off the shelf from Walmart as “Monk Fruit To Go,” and from In the Raw as “Monk Fruit In The Raw.”