Monk fruit prepares for European approval

20 Mar 2018

Monk fruit could be on the brink of EU approval, potentially opening new opportunities for sugar reduction. Will it live up to the hype?

Monk fruit prepares for European approval
Could monk fruit be the next stevia?

Ten years ago, stevia was hailed as a revolutionary sweetener for food and drink manufacturers looking for a replacement for sugar that also answered consumer demand for natural ingredients. Since it gained EU regulatory approval in 2011, it has been used to sweeten thousands of products in the region, and about 450 new products introduced each year are sweetened with stevia, according to Mintel’s Global New Products Database.

If monk fruit sweeteners also gain approval, suppliers hope it will follow in stevia’s footsteps. Manufacturers are eager for another natural option, as they look to respond to demand for reduced sugar products, as well as pressure from governments to cut population-wide sugar consumption.

Overcoming cost challenges

However, stevia’s success story has not been an entirely smooth path, and those looking to monk fruit should also expect bumps in the road. Its taste was an initial challenge, and it took time for formulators to work out how best to use the sweetener. Monk fruit is said to have a more sugar-like taste than stevia, but one of its main limitations is cost, as it is still three to four times more expensive.

For now at least, the success or otherwise of monk fruit is tied to market demand for stevia. Chinese supplier Guilin Layn Natural Ingredients, which has applied to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for a scientific opinion on its ingredient, aims to be the first to sell monk fruit in Europe. While it says the sweetener can replace all the sugar in some applications, it suggests that for the best results in chocolate or baked goods, it should be used in conjunction with stevia for a 50% sugar reduction.

Both stevia and monk fruit’s intense sweetness means a very small quantity is needed in finished products – monk fruit sweeteners are about 250 times sweeter than sugar – but in many foods, this presents a textural challenge. Manufacturers need to consider other ingredients, like fibres, for example, to replicate the mouthfeel that consumers expect.

Monk fruit applications across the globe

Monk fruit has already received regulatory approval in Asia, the United States and some Latin American countries, so looking at its use in those markets may provide some clues to its promise in Europe.

In the U.S., monk fruit was granted GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status in 2010. Since then, 506 products have been introduced containing monk fruit – compared to 2,615 containing stevia in the same period. Many of these were drinks, but also ice creams, yoghurts and sports nutrition products, like bars and protein powders.

For many of these, a blend of monk fruit and stevia has allowed companies to benefit from stevia’s lower cost and monk fruit’s taste profile, which works to counteract any lingering or bitter flavour notes in stevia-derived sweeteners.

It seems likely that monk fruit will follow a similar pattern in Europe.