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 

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