April 08, 2013

Monk Fruit: A Stevia/Splenda Alternative Sweetener That Doesn't Suck? (Review & Giveaway)



So how did I not hear about monk fruit until now? Duh. I somehow missed the whole thing.

Well, actually, I did recognize "luo han guo," a name that monk fruit also goes by, as one of the ingredients in the sinisterly addictive protein bars I've been scarfing down ever since the Quest Bar Review.  But I hadn't really noticed the squat orange jar or packets on the grocercy store shelf until I got a PR email on behalf of the folks at Nectresse. I just thought of it as some obscure ingredient only food manufacturers had access to.

In brief, monk fruit is a natural sweetener with almost no calories or glycemic impact. And you can now get it in most grocery stores as an alternative to splenda, stevia, sugar, agave syrup, or whatever the heck else you use to sweeten things up.

But is it safe? And how does it taste? And what was that bit about a giveaway?


We'll get to all that. Eventually.

But first...

Sweeteners? Who Needs 'Em?

...Crabby, Apparently!

Did we even use that word a couple of decades ago?  There was sugar or saccharine. (Something I could never tolerate.  I'm still mystified at the continued existence of pink packets.)

Of course I realize the thing most mature, sensible, moderate, healthy eaters do is cut down on not just sugar, but anything sweet and decadent that could either be dangerous or just taste too damn good.

Because we all know that allowing lots of sweet treats can lead to an endless cycle of craving and binging and craving and binging and sobbing and blogging and blah blah blah blah.

Whatever.  I say screw maturity, I want my sweets!



If I were a character in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?  Not only would I not end up owning the factory, I'd probably eat up all the other contestants, at least if they happened to be dusted with enough stray chocolate particles to seem remotely edible.

However, I am pretty sure that eating a lot of sugar is bad for my long term health, and I'm not convinced that the alternatives are nearly as bad.

So I do sweeteners.  Craploads of sweeteners.  I stay away from aspartame, and try to avoid mainstream diet soft drinks at least until they can figure out why the hell people who are drinking them are gaining weight and croaking from strokes.

But I've been taking my chances on the sweeteners that don't, so far, seem to be obviously dangerous.  I figure my best bet is to mix 'em up, so I can claim to be "moderate" with any particular one, while sweetening every damn thing in sight, from tea and coffee and a variety of faux desserts to weird things like homemade salad dressings and sauces.

I'd been pretty happy with my Trader Joe's Stevia extract, combined with occasional Splenda packets that I figure probably won't kill me any time soon, even if it's true they've been implicated in the mass murder of beneficial gut bacteria.  And I use coconut sugar when I need something more "real" for baking, as it's got a lot going for it even though it isn't non-caloric.  But if there's a new sweetener in town I might be able to abuse? Sure, I'll check it out!

I ain't a role model here.  But then you knew that already.

What's the Deal With MonkFruit Safety?

Well, the first thing to know is that it hasn't been tested all that much in humans, and it lacks decades of rigorous laboratory scrutiny because it's a natural sweetener extracted from a fruit that's been around for ages, and no one had enough of a monetary stake in it to get all sciencey about it.  Now that the Splenda people are on it, perhaps there'll be more research.

It's "generally recognized as safe" by the FDA, but, hello?  I think power bars made from arsenic, broken glass, rusty nails and razor blades could probably be GRAS given the sometimes whimsical standards of the FDA.

Personally, I wouldn't be surprised if massive doses of monkfruit might end up increasing your risk eyeball cancer or cause you to sprout horns on your head or hear nonexistent harpsichord music at night.  Any time you extract something and eat it out of all proportion to how it's found in nature, you could run some risk of it messing with you.

However, it is at least natural and there are no obvious known side effects yet.  And one advantage it has over stevia, according a source quoted by the Food Processing Industry Folks:

"Since it comes from a fruit, it basically starts as a juice. Only water is used in the extraction/processing... A true "natural" claim for some stevia could be questioned, as some suppliers of that plant-based sweetener use solvents to extract the steviol glycosides."

And check this out, cavepeople:  even Primal Guru Mark Sisson doesn't hate it!

Here's the Daily Apple on monkfruit:

"The monk fruit itself appears to have some interesting components, similar to stevia, including a group of triterpene glycosides (called mogrosides) that are sweet but non-caloric. Like stevia, monk fruit mogrosides have some health effects beyond just being sweet without being caloric."

  • Monk fruit mogrosides have antioxidant activity;
  • In a mouse model of diabetes, mogrosides lowered oxidative stress, blood glucose, and improved blood lipids;
  • One study gave dogs up to 3 grams per kg body weight without affecting body weight, food consumption, hematology, blood chemistry, urinalysis, organ weight, or histopathology, so the monk fruit extract appears to be fairly non-toxic. 

Mark's bottom line: "I’d say it’s worth a shot if you’re looking for a non-caloric, natural sweetener, especially if you don’t like the taste of stevia...Verdict: Primal, especially if you’re okay with stevia."
Though of course Mark would prefer you grow your own rather than cart home prepackaged packets from the store, and predictably, mainstream sources suggest moderation.  Um, yeah... sure, I'll be all over that.

Are There Other Alternatives besides Nectresse for Monkfruit?


Yes! Though I've only tried one of them.  The "Sugar in the Raw" people have also jumped on the orange bandwagon with their own little packets of  Monk Fruit In the Raw.

Why is Monk Fruit So Scared to be Alone?

In the two products I've tried, monk fruit has been blended with other stuff, theoretically because it's so intense it needs to chill a little bit with some mellower companions.  The Nectresse people use erythritol, sugar, and molasses, and the In The Raw folks use dextrose.  I'm not overly concerned about these additions myself, but feel free to google up some research on 'em as that's beyond the scope of this blog post, which is already getting pretty darn long.

Does Monk Fruit Taste Good? 

After a series of tests in the Cranky Fitness Laboratories, the Lobster and Crab concluded...


The stuff is a pretty darn convincing sugar substitute!

Note: our tastebuds may be warped and unreliable by our use of other fake sugars. Questions of taste are very subjective.

We'd rank Nectresse as possibly slightly better than Monk Fruit in the Raw, though it was so close we couldn't be entirely sure. Both monkfruits beat out my favorite stevia, and Nectresse seemed about equivalent to Splenda, which I actually like and would consume more of if it wasn't being all mean to my gut bacteria.  Though it took perhaps a bit more Nectresse to achieve the same sweetness as Splenda.

I haven't tried baking with Nectresse other than a quick microwave chocolate cake, combined with coconut sugar, and it seemed to do fine. Maybe slightly more artificial than sugar but pretty darn tasty.

Most Shocking Horrible Discovery of All

Something I found over at the Sugar in the Raw site that I never knew?

A packet of sweetner can contain Three calories even if says it has Zero Calories!

That's not "rounding." That's "lying!"  The fact that the FDA allows this, and companies use it to misrepresent a product as having less than .5 calories per serving (the normal, sane interpretation of "0," while still allowing for rounding) when the product can have up to 6 times as much, pisses me the hell off. 

I have no idea if Nectresse does the same thing, I shoulda asked, but if anyone knows please pass along the info. I should probably find out if the approximately 700 packets a day I'll be consuming will have some caloric implications.

And now ... The Giveaway!

We've got a container of Nectresse with 140 servings, plus a box of 40 packets, for THREE giveaway winners. Alas, U.S. mailing addresses only.  If you are selected and aren't eligible, you can either choose a winner yourself or I'll redraw.

To enter, leave a comment below!

To Up your Chances: in a sneaky effort to goose the google, er, help people find information on monk fruit more easily, if you link to this post from somewhere, let me know in the comments and you get two entries.  If you're really clever and link using a searchable word or phrase like "monkfruit review" or "stevia alternative" or any darn thing people might type into a search box, you get four entries.

But I'll make sure to reserve one prize for those who are blogless or twitterfree or pin-tless or faceless and can't leverage their social media addiction to do more than one entry.

Winner announced this Thursday April 11th and you'll have until end of day Monday April 15th to email and claim your prize or I'll redraw.

What do you think of sweeteners, are you a fan or do prefer to just use sugar?


Cake Girl Photo swiped (yet again) from Plan59 

42 comments:

  1. I don't mind Stevia at all, but I use sugar. My fave version of it for baking is cane syrup.
    Don't know a thing about monk fruit. I'll go research. Meanwhile, if my name gets drawn just ignore it and pick someone else.

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    1. Where, oh where do you find cane syrup that is pure cane syrup and not diluted with corn syrup???? (And don't tell me "in Canada" which won't help.) My mother grew up where cane was a crop, and there are things I used to cook that I don't cook anymore because they Don't Taste Right without it. Pure cane syrup disappeared from grocery shelves in my area years ago. Decades ago.

      Mary Anne in Kentucky

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    2. I'll give it a shot. Better than a shot of insulin.

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  3. I LOVE Quest bars. They are the only protein bar I will use, and I only eat the ones that use stevia and lo hang guo for sweetening (look at the labels; content varies according to flavor). I use Quest bars when traveling when the options are not great, but it's mostly been helpful to curb my sweet tooth cravings. Between an ice cream/cookies/chocolate binge and 1 satisfying Quest bar, full of protein and fiber, the choice is easy. And it works. (And no, they did not pay me to write this!)

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  4. Don't include me in the giveaway: erythritol and I don't play nice. And that's a sugar alcohol. Why do they include an additional (fake) sweetener with your sweetener? I'd be more inclined to give the in the raw version a try...

    I have a love/hate relationship with fake sweeteners and sugar. Right now I'm determined to banish all from my life. But by 2pm that'll probably change. I do find the fake stuff is tasting faker everyday. Stevia and honey are my favorites at the moment. In fact, I'm going to plant stevia in my herb garden. (If my husband would let me, I'd totally put a dozen bee hives on our property too.)

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  5. I use stevia in my beloved iced soy lattes (or almond milk, when available, since too much soy is scary). I saw this monk fruit sweetener a few days ago, but didn't try it. I'f LOVE to try it for free, because I'm cheap-er-thrifty.

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  6. I love my Truvia but if you use too much, it can get a bitter taste to it. I definitely try to avoid the aspartme crap and diet soda because they still don't know quite yet what even does to lab rats. If I am feeling indulgent I'll use the real sugar or brown sugar. Some things like oat meal which is already extremely healthy need brown sugar, the fake stuff or non-caloric real stuff will not do.

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  7. I love my sweets! Currently I'm using a stevia/sugar blend which is pretty good. I've seen the monkfruit and was curious...but I didn't want to risk buying it until some other sucker, er, helpful person offered up a review. So thank you!

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  8. I didn't like stevia when I tried it years ago but am tempted by the blend now available. Splenda is what I use most of the time. Some regular sugar for baking as I have not found great substitutes for that. I did try the two packet sample of Nectresse I was sent a while back. I really couldn't tell much difference but when I checked on the price in the grocery store, Nectreese is considerably more expensive. That made my mind up for sticking with the Splenda. I'm cheap that way! They will need to demonstrate a real need/difference before I will fork over more dough!

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  9. The kids use sugar, i don't sweeten stuff, and Sweetie used pink packets for iced tea because that's how his mama made it and he likes it that way. So we don't use these, but thanks for the review, people ask me about sweeteners when they find out my diet is so "odd" to them, and i like to be able to answer their questions.

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  10. I've never tried Stevia, so you can initiate me :-)

    I do not add sugar. I do use the pink stuff in my one very small cup of coffee a day. I will have Aspertame in diet drinks, but for some reason, Splenda does not agree with me,

    One of the things about sugar which I learned about many years ago is that it is a serious contributor to facial wrinkles!

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    1. With my huge sample of N=1 I'm gonna discredit this theory, if you allow... ;-) LOL
      I've eaten enough sugar in this life to last me for the next 572 lives...
      and for my age I have pretty much no wrinkle at all. (Plus no white hair either.)
      BUT sugar has given me a LOT of headaches, and that's why I have cut it down drastically a few years ago. Goodbye, migraine! :-)

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    2. Yep, I'm with HappinessSavouredHot...I've always had a sweet tooth and people generally think I am 10 years younger than I am. My financial advisor looked like she was about to have a heart attack when she found out how old I was. Seriously. I was worried.

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    3. Another lifelong sweet tooth who makes peoples' jaws drop by telling them her age.
      (Speak up, wrinkly sugar eaters! There must be some!)

      Mary Anne in Kentucky

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    4. We should upload pictures of ourselves and have people guess our age! ;-)

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    5. Wow, I'm envious of all you youthful looking sugar eaters! Hmm, maybe we can rebrand sugar as antiaging medicine, put out an infomercial with you guys as models, and make a fortune!

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  11. PS: The lying with the zero calorie verses THREE is nothing. It's the lying where 5 calories of trans-fat is labeled zero that bothers me.

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  12. This is great news about monk fruit as a possible low-calorie sweetener. Like you, I'm a skeptic about the whole "natural automatically means healthier," but monk fruit does sound promising.

    For beverages, I love my stevia, but for anything that involves sprinkling or baking, it doesn't work. I tried growing my own stevia but it has a very "dusty" aftertaste, so now I used a processed kind. If monk fruit has less of an after taste and is less processed, that'd be wonderful. (Especially if monk fruit sweeteners are available at a reasonable price.)

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  13. Wait, wait!... here's the part of this post that left me in awe:

    "When I bake..."

    When you bake?! Seriously!???

    I put that right up there in the same category with quantum physics, sewing (of any kind), and doing crossword puzzles quickly. Simply amazing to me that ANYone has that ability. And they inevitably mention it almost as an 'aside', no less!

    So impressed was I after the baking comment, that I lost sight of what the post was actually about. Ok - now I remember. Dang!.....makes me want to go get a brownie :( I'm a Splenda girl (in my once in a while cup of tea) and otherwise am considering some kind of intervention program for sugar addicts. Help!

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  14. I use liquid stevia in my kids breakfast smoothies and they don't notice the difference. It did take me a while to get used to how concentrated it is though.

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  15. I am tentatively hopeful about this new sweetener.

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  16. I added this link to Pinterest (http://pinterest.com/rnnergrl/pins/)

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  17. I used the terms"monkfruit review", and "stevia alternative" in my link.

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  18. People who are enjoying good figure or those who are craving for it would be much conscious when it comes to their sugar intake as too much of it might be a problem in their fitness. I believe that alternative sweeteners would really be as good as having a personal trainer that watches your fitness maintenance.

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  19. This whole Monk Fruit concept is new to me. Good to know about. I'll be doing a bit more reading about it now. Thanks for the update! Very informative.

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  20. I had never heard of monk fruit before. I usually just use sugar, but I have occasionally used flavored agave packets that were pretty good.

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  21. Thanks for the valuable information. I am always in the look out for sugar alternatives. Sugar is so bad for our health therefore it's worth trying to use other natural sweeteners. I've never heard about monk fruit and I am glad I have found your post about it.

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  22. I mainly stick to sugar and just try to watch my intake. I can't stand stevia or aspartame. Splenda is a little less offensive, but I find it can have a sickly sweet aftertaste. I do try to buy the organic, from sugar cane, less processed sugar, but I definitely use sugar.

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  23. Monk fruit looks like well-tanned bald Monk heads. And if the mailman wasn't so fast I might have kissed him when that special package arrived Monday. Thank you again ma'am. :)

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  24. This stuff sounds great...crossing my fingers!

    xmeliss182x at yahoo dot com

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  25. I've become leery of sweeteners ever since I had a hard time with aspartame over the years. I tend to stick with sugar though I'll keep an open mind about something new.

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  26. My usual eating guidelines are ... not to eat refined sugar, not to eat anything that wasn't available fifty years ago, and not to eat anything I couldn't make from raw ingredients in my own kitchen.

    Giving myself the usual wiggle room of doing it "90% right, 90% of the time" means the occasional vanilla cheesecake or can of diet coke (I prefer the taste of diet) finds its way past my lips, but it's safe to say that sweetened food doesn't play a big part in my life!

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  27. I have always been very concerned about artificial sweeteners. Aspartane is particularly concerning as one of the compounds it breaks down into when consumed is methanol which is a neurotoxin. I normally use good quality honey if I need to sweeten anything.

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  28. it is all all all enough to make this misfit roll SWEETNER FREE.

    almost. :-)

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  29. I have to admit that while I would like to try this, I'm not exactly fussy. I drink mass produced diet soda and make my own at home. Both of those options could probably make me grow a third eyeball some day. :) Whatever, I need caffeine.

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  30. just tried the skinny girl monk fruit sweetener(like 1 tbsp.)and have been violently sick for two hours!!! WTF???

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  31. I'm excited to try this.....I'm always on the lookout for a natural substitute for sugar. My 3 yr old daughter is a type I diabetic, she was diagnosed at 17 months. I hate that almost every sugar free drink contains aspertame. Hopefully, she'll like like this sweetner. Thanks for the info, I'm glad I stumbled upon your sight.

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  32. I just tried the monk fruit in the raw and have to say I was pretty pleased. I don't care for the Stevia or Truvia tastes. I feel the monk fruit is sweeter and I like the taste much better. I've been using the agave nectar in my protein shakes for a little sweetness and I love it. I still haven't baked with it though. I do use organic sugar when making my rice pudding and desserts. I think I might have to start with the monk fruit, just need to figure out the equivalent for a 1/2 cup of sugar. It's worth trying for the money and I believe it's pretty healthy too. Great blog site. Just came across it when I was google'ing monk fruit in the raw.

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  33. I've been using both Monk Fruit in the Raw and Stevia. I switch back and forth - depends on which packet I grab first (they're in the same container). I think I actually like the Monk Fruit a little better. I have baked with it (oatmeal cookies, gingerbread, cherry pie filling), and it worked great.

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