It might not have garnered as much publicity as stevia, but monk fruit (luo han guo) “has found a niche within the all-natural market but will hit mass market sooner than stevia in this space”, according to one leading supplier.
Steve Light, business development manager at Amax NutraSource, was speaking to FoodNavigator-USA at Expo West, where Amax was launching Perfecta, a zero-cal blend of monk fruit extract and erythritol.
Perfecta - which is made using a granulation process that creates particles of a uniform size, eliminating sweetness separation - is the latest in a series of LHG-based sweeteners developed by Amax NutraSource.
Monk fruit helps eliminate bitterness associated with stevia
Light said: “We hear daily that people are looking for alternatives to stevia. What we find interesting is the increase of monk fruit / luo han guo (LHG) and stevia blends. In our opinion the inclusion of LHG to stevia improves the taste profile and helps to eliminate the bitterness typically described with stevia.”
He added: “The most intense version of the LHG extract still provides a nice sweet cycle and no bitter after taste.”
But he acknowledged: “We do find most developers that use LHG extract tend to cut it with water soluble fiber and may include a masking agent to balance the sweetness.”
While LHG extract is currently twice as expensive as stevia, the “supply of the fruit and improvements in agronomics will make the price more appealing to mass market products in the coming years”, he predicted.
Erythritol blend creates zero calorie bulk sweetener
Amax NutraSource, which has an exclusive contract with a Chinese monk fruit supplier, is one of only two distributors of GRAS monk fruit in the US. The other is Tate & Lyle, which offers monk fruit sweeteners under the Purefruit brand via a partnership with BioVittoria.
Light added: “Tate & Lyle I’m sure will continue to innovative with LHG but what we see available from them today with Purefruit is a calorie reduction blend with their crystalline fructose and a zero calorie blend with stevia.”
Perfecta, by contrast, provided the bulk needed for sugar replacement, but was still zero calorie, he said.
Perfecta launches set to hit market in next three to six months
Several products would hit shelves in the coming months using Perfecta, which is being targeted at retail and industrial ingredients markets, he said. “You will see in the next three to six months many products hit the market using Perfecta.
“Beverage retailers and developers are leading the way with the most interest. However, with Perfecta supplying bulking we are rapidly seeing retailers and food application developers lock on to Perfecta for calorie reduction and zero calorie applications.”
Perfecta was suitable for food and beverage applications with the exception of baking products where browning is required, he added. (Erythritol does not provide for the maillard reaction.)
“Since Perfecta is four times sweeter than sucrose, if replacing sugar you will need to provide some volume replacement of solids, which is easily done. For food applications Perfecta is great for candy, cereals, frostings/glazes, powder mixes, savory items such as rubs and marinades.”
Tate & Lyle: Toolbox approach
According to Tate & Lyle, dairy and beverages are proving the most popular areas for monk fruit sweeteners.
Caroline Sanders, global marketing & communications director, Tate & Lyle Speciality Food Ingredients, told FoodNavigator-USA last month : “Customers are taking a toolbox approach when developing foods/beverages with Purefruit similar to what we’ve seen with other non-nutritive sweeteners over time.
“So combinations with stevia, fructose, sugar are not uncommon, depending on the formulators' objectives around taste, cost, and labeling.”
Higher the pH, the more cost-effective it is…
As for price, a lot depended on acidity, according to BioVittoria. “In a neutral to high pH product – some dairy products for example - you get a tremendous amount of sweetness using only a very small amount, which makes it more cost effective. In a more acidic application, you’d need to use more.”