Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Luo Han Guo

Call it monk's fruit or longevity fruit, Luo Han Guo didn't get the names from nothing. It is said that monks first discovered how beneficial  the fruit can be--hence the first name. Luo Han Guos are plentiful in the mountains of Guilin in Southern China, where the trees thrive in the misty cool of the mountains. Residents around these mountains are reported to live rather long lives, hence the second name--the longevity fruit. In recent years, Luo Han Guo has been recognized for another contribution--it is fast becoming a popular natural sweetener.The Food and Drug Administration has approved its use as a food ingredient, sweetener and flavor modifier.

Luo Han Guo--crack it open and you'll find lots of seeds and brown pulp. Courtesy of flickr.com

For centuries, the Chinese have valued Luo Han Guo for its medicinal value. The dried fruit is often used to make sweet deserts and herbal brew to treat sore throat, coughs,  internal heat, constipation and gastrointestinal problem.  In recent years, the natural sweetness is used to make natural sweetener --one that doesn't cause sugar spike or questionable side effects (like some artificial sweeteners do). This is good news for people suffering from diabetes and are consciously trying to reduce sugar intake. Sugar has been identified as a major contributing factor to weight gain.

What makes this fruit a good candidate for a natural sweetener? It is the presence of mogrosides, a group of terpene glycosides, which is 300 times sweetener than sugar that sets this fruit apart. In addition to its sweetness, Luo Han Guo is also high in vitamin C, protein and 18 amino acids. There is more --Luo Han Guo is also rich in antioxidants and exerts anti-inflammatory properties. In recent years, Luo Han Guo extract has been used to blend with other herbal teas to boost immune system and reduce risks of cancer. It is important to note that these health claims are inconclusive, though users have reported favorable results.

If you're looking for the fruit, the fresh fruit is seldom used due to its short shelf life and its rather unpleasant flavor. However, when dried, the fruit has a nutty flavor, more akin to a caramel toffee-like flavor. You can find these dried fruits in Chinese health stores. Crack them open and boil them in water for a sweet tea brew.

Here's how you can make Luo Han Guo Herbal Tea: