We’ve been using Monk Fruit (known as Luo han guo or Lo han kuo in Chinese) as an occasional sweetener for around 2 years now. I say occasional, because we do try to drink things pure (without any sweeteners) but will occasionally, as a special treat, sweeten with homegrown stevia or some monk fruit.
I picked up this unassuming package for $1.49 at the local Asian store and was pleasantly surprised to find out that it was great for sweetening tea.
This package is actually labeled as dried Momordica which I believe is bitter melon. I think this may be a common mislabeling so be aware of that when you are searching out your own.
Monk fruit grows as a vine (Siraitia grosvenorii) in temperate regions of far southern China. It seems to be a finicky plant requiring a warm climate, high humidity and shade. While monk fruit does contain some glucose and fructose, the mogrosides in the fruit are 300 time sweeter than sugar. Monk fruit has been used both as a sweetener and in traditional Chinese medicine for hundreds of years. The fruits are preserved by drying in ovens which, while removing some unwanted flavors, introduces a few more bitter notes. Therefore, the fruit is most suitable for teas or beverages (where these bitter flavors are not absorbed). Proctor and Gamble has patented a method to extract the mogrosides so the extract can be bought commercially also.
As a titbit, this fruit is also called Arhat fruit from the Chinese translation of Luóhàn. An Arhat is a Buddhist who has reached the level of being enlightened, which is why this fruit is sometimes also called Buddha fruit.
How do we use monk fruit? Well, it is pretty simple. The whole fruit has sweetness to it, so we break of bits of the seeds and rind and boil it in water for a few minutes with whatever tea ingredients we want to use it with. If you are using tea that should not be boiled (like green tea), you can simply add in the tea at the end for steeping.