Sunday, April 3, 2011

Luo Han Guo - The Sweet Taste of Health

In China the Luo Han Guo fruit has been used as a natural sweetener for nearly a millennium. The official name of this herbaceous perennial vine is Siraitia grosvenorii. It is native to southern China and is best known for its fruit.

Luo Han Guo, (罗汉果; Pinyin: luóhàn guǒ) literally means "arhat fruit" or "monk's fruit", and is one of several that have been called the "longevity fruit". It is also commonly spelled as "luohan guo". It is grown primarily in the southwestern Chinese province of Guangxi (mostly in the mountains of Guilin), as well as in Guangdong, Guizhou, Hunan, and Jiangxi. These mountains lend the plants shade, and are often surrounded by mists.

Dried Fruit

Luo Han Guo is rarely found in the wild. Most of the plantations are located in Yongfu County and Lingui County, which in China are renowned for the extraordinary number of centenarians. Longjiang town (Longjiang meaning "Dragon River") in Yongfu County has a number of companies specialised in making Luo Han Guo extracts and finished products.

The dried fruits are part of the daily life in the provinces where it is grown. They are stored and used for drinks, teas, soups, candies, cakes, and crackers that are consumed all year long. Records show that Luo Han Guo has been cultivated in the Guangxi province since 1813. Currently, the largest plantation is in the Guilin mountains, covering 16 square kilometers. Guilin supplies over 90 percent of the total commercial production and is considered to be the home of Luo Han Guo fruit production, with a tradition of processing that began in the late 19th century. During the Tang dynasty, Guilin was one of the most important Buddhist retreats. Luo Han Guo was named after a group of Buddhist monks who, due to their proper way of life and meditation, achieved enlightenment.

Luo Han Guo became better known in the 20th century. The first report of it in English was found in an unpublished manuscript written in 1938 by Professor G. W. Groff and Hoh Hin Cheung. The report stated that the fruits were often used as the main ingredient for remedies that treated fever or other dysfunctions, traditionally associated with warmth or heat. It was widely known that the juice of the fruit was very sweet. Groff and Hoh realised that Luo Han Guo was an important Chinese domestic remedy for the treatment of cold and pneumonia.

The fruit only recently gained importance in Chinese history, however, it appears that a small group of people had mastered its cultivation a long time ago.

Lou Han Guo came to the United States in the early 20th century. Seeds of the fruit were bought in a Chinese shop in San Francisco, and were subsequently entered into the universal botanic description of the species in 1941.

The sweet taste of Luo Han Guo comes mainly from mogrosides that make up the flesh of the fresh fruit. Through extraction, a powder containing 80% mogrosides can be obtained. Five different mogrosides are known, each one numbered from 1 to 5. The main mogroside in this plant is mogroside-5, that was previously known as esgoside. The pure mogroside mix results in a sweetness that is 300 times sweeter than sugar. The 80% mix is approximately 250 times sweeter, while pure mogroside-5 can be up to 400 times as sweet.

There are no reported incidents of negative side effects of Luo Han Guo and there are no restrictions on consuming the fruit or its extracts. The plant is most prized for its sweet fruit, which are used for medicinal purposes, and as a sweetener. Luo Han Guo fruits are generally sold in dried form, and traditionally used in herbal teas or soup. They are used for respiratory ailments, sore throats and are thought to aid longevity.

Recent research on Luo Han Guo suggests that the mogroside works as an antioxidant and that it helps to prevent cancer. The use of Luo Han Guo as a remedy for diabetes and obesity has been mentioned, since it can be used as a substitute for sugar. Luo Han Guo has also been shown to be useful against the Epstein-Barr virus.

Yet its curative history is not what first brought it to the attention of food manufacturers in this country.

Mongrosides contribute hardly any calories to the diet and have potentially healthful side effects to boot. Though glycosides tickle our sweet taste buds, the body handles them differently from carbohydrates. Insulin levels do not rise in response to glycosides, since they arent broken apart to produce energy. This way you cant pack on the pounds. Researchers at Nihon University in Japan have identified nearly 20 compounds from Luo Han Guo with potential anti-tumor activities. Animal studies at the University of Hiroshima, also in Japan, have shown that two of the mongrosides can inhibit the growth of skin tumors initiated by known carcinogens.

Other promising studies demonstrated that mongrosides not only fail to raise blood sugar levels but may actually slow the entrance of sugar into the blood. Mongrosides may even help to protect against heart disease by preventing the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, a known risk factor, especially for persons at risk for heart disease or with diabetes.

Luo Han Guo is harvested in the form of a round green fruit, which becomes brown when it's dried. Since it is hard to store, you can rarely find it in its fresh form. For this reason, the fruits are usually dried before they are sold in Chinese herbal shops. This limits the use of the dried fruits and extracts to teas, soups, and as a sweetener for products that would usually have sugar or honey added to them. There are a number of commercially prepared Luo Han Guo products. The extracted fresh and dried fruit is usually processed into a powder, comprised of at least 80 percent mogrosides. The powder dissolves in water and the taste is unaffected by cooking, making it an ideal natural replacement for artificial sweeteners. One of the most famous of these is powdered, instant Luo Han Guo, which is sold by the Yongfu company. It is sold in China, Hong Kong and in Chinese shops in the West. In addition, there are a number of other products which contain Luo Han Guo either on its own, or in a mix with other herbs. You can also find it in some juice products, where it is combined with other super-fruits.

We often hear of miracle foods and other over-hyped ingredients, in the global health and nutrition industry. Luo Han Guo might just be the first super-fruit that could live up to every bit of the hype that's surrounding it.

Luo Han Guo - The Sweet Taste of Health

Chaba Gryphon is an entrepreneur with interests which include health, nutrition, business and international communications. He started such informational websites as [] and [] and is currently working on promoting the international language, through his "One World, One Voice Project", which you can find here: []

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