Luo Han Guo

Other Names of Luo Han Guo: Siraitiagrosvenorii; Momordicagrosvenorii; arhat fruit; Buddha fruit; monk fruit; luohankuo; lohoguo

Useful Parts of the Plant: Fruit

Luohanguo is a herbaceous perennial vine. It grows mainly in southern China and northern Thailand. The plant is valued mainly for its fruit which has also been known as the 'longevity fruit'. The fruit has been used to cool drinks and in Chinese medicine. It is round and smooth and can be yellowish-brown or greenish brown in color. It contains a sweet, fleshy edible pulp. The fruit extract is used as a sweetener, since this is known to be almost 300 times sweeter as compared to sugar. It has been used for centuries by the Chinese as a low calorie sweetener to treat obesity and diabetes.

Nutritional Information and Properties

Luohanguo contains a group of compounds known as mogrosides. These compounds, along with glucose and fructose, are responsible for the intense sweetness of the fruit. They are estimated to be about 150 to 300 times sweeter than sucrose. This has made the luohanguo extract popular as a low calorie sweetener. In Japan, the purified compound, mogroside V, is approved as a high intensity sweetening agent. Studies have also suggested that luohanguo has an anti-hyperglycemic effect that could make it useful in regulating blood sugar levels of diabetics.

Health Benefits and Therapeutic Uses

Luohanguo has been used in parts of southern China as a fruit that enhances longevity. There is a high proportion of centenarians in the areas of south China where the fruit grows. This is probably why the fruit has gained its reputation as a longevity fruit.

Traditional Chinese medicine has long used luohanguo to treat obesity. Studies have shown that it has antioxidant properties though its ability to neutralize free radicals seems to be less than that of Vitamin E. It also has an anti-histaminic effect and has been used to treat heat stroke, chronic cough and sore throats.

Laboratory studies suggest that some of the compounds in the fruit like cucurbitane glycosides have a potential for fighting cancer cells. The mogrosides may also inhibit the growth of the Epstein Barr virus.

Luohanguo is usually dried before being used. This is due to the fact that the fresh fruit is difficult to store and ferments easily, developing a decomposed taste. They are dried slowly in ovens which helps to get rid of the unwanted smell and also help to preserve them. The drawback of this technique is that it may lead to the formation of bitter aromas. These aromas limit its use to the preparation of tea and as a sweetener.

The process of manufacturing the sweetener includes removal of all the unwanted aromas to make the sweetener suitable for general applications. In this process, the immature fruit is harvested and left to mature in storage. Once the maturity process is completed, the shell and seeds are removed and the fruit is ground into a pulp. The pulped fruit is then made into a concentrate and solvents and other chemicals are used to remove the unwanted aromas.

Luohanguo products are widely available in the commercial market today. Powdered instant luohanguo is available in China and in Chinese shops that are present in the West. There are also a number of products available which combine luohanguo with other herbs. Combinations of luohanguo and Ginkgo biloba are used to treat cough and it is combined with chrysanthemum to treat headache and heatstroke. It has been combined with sucralose and used as a sweetener in protein bars.

There have been no reported incidences of side effects with luohanguo and the US FDA has classified it as a GRAS (generally recognized as safe) product.