A team of scientists from IHBT and CSIR has successfully grown the Chinese monk fruit in Palampur. They hope intense sweeteners made from the fruit will soon be available in the market.
Alternatives to sugar usually mean artificial, chemical-laden sweeteners. But what if there was a natural alternative that’s low on calories and 300 times sweeter than sugar? It could really benefit India, which has become the diabetes capital of the world.
For the first time, scientists have successfully grown the monk fruit on Indian soil. The fruit, which is native to China and known as lo han guo, is a small, green melon named after the monks who cultivated it centuries ago. It packs a punch since it offers high nutrition and low calories, and has a natural compound without increasing blood sugar levels.
Scientists from the Indian Institute of Himalayan Bio-resource Technology (IHBT) and Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) lab are now working jointly to bring the fruit to the commercial market.
In a conversation with Daily Pioneer, Dr Sanjay Kumar, Director of CSIR-IHBT, Palampur, HP, said,
Since India is home to 62.4 million people with Type 2 diabetes, this is a wondrous fruit for them. We have been successful in experiments at our farms. Now, we are focusing on process technology and product development (extract) from monk fruit. We hope intense sweeteners made from the juice of this fruit will soon be available in the market.
Apart from diabetics, the fruit could also interest food manufacturers seeking low-calorie ingredients.
Monk fruit is not commercially cultivated outside China as it requires appropriate agro-techniques, suitable cultivar, and scientific technologies, reports The Better India.
Dr Probir Kumar Pal, Senior Scientist at IHBT, said, “Keeping in mind the importance and essentiality of a natural sweetener, and diverse agro-climatic conditions here, we introduced seeds from China through NBPGR-ICAR early this year.”
The extensive research led to fruits of good quality being harvested at Institutional Experimental Farm. At present, a team of scientists from IHBT is working to develop good agricultural practices and for varietal improvement.
Despite the demand for low-calorie sweeteners, monk fruit holds a very small share of the market – 2.2 percent share of the natural sweetener market. The main reason is limited supply. Dr Probir estimated that the global market for monk fruit would generate Rs 379.4 million in revenue by the end of 2026.
That sounds like sweet success!
Soon, Indians pursuing the keto diet will have a natural, antioxidant-rich natural sweetener to bank on.