Sweet Origins - The Sources of Popular Sugar Substitutes

Sweet Origins - The Sources of Popular Sugar Substitutes

Which is your favorite sweetener? Do you know if it comes from a plant source or if it’s a chemical derivative?

Understanding where our food comes from is a trend that’s at an all-time height of popularity. People have spent over $40 Billion dollars on foods that are labeled organic, showing that the sources of our food are a vital concern to many.

Sugar substitutes are another popular food that has a wide range of sources. From the monk fruit which is grown in rare parts of Thailand and China to erythritol which is a sugar alcohol that’s approved as safe in most of the world, the origins of these sweeteners are often exotic. Discover where your favorite sweetener comes from or how it’s made and see if it changes your opinion.  

Origin of the Asian Superfood Sweetener, The Monk Fruit

Grown in Southern China and Northern Thailand, monk fruit is a vine known to be raised by the monks in those regions. Monk fruit is known as luo han guo in China, and that’s how it will be labeled on many packages when ordered in the USA. Used for centuries as a sweetener and tea, monk fruit has gained tremendous popularity recently for its use as a zero-calorie sugar substitute.

What’s the Most Unique Thing About Monk Fruit?

The most interesting thing about monk fruit is that it’s the only known food to contain mogrosides. It’s the mogrosides that make it 300-400 times sweeter than sugar, meaning a little monk fruit goes a long way. Other advantages include its remarkably high amount of antioxidants and the fact that it’s used as an anti-inflammatory and cough remedy.

Where and How is Erythritol Made?

Erythritol has the unique status of being a man-made sugar alcohol that is widely considered to be safe. Although found in nature in certain fruits and vegetables, erythritol is most often produced when yeast ferments glucose from corn or wheat. The result is a sweetener that contains 6% of the calories of sugar.

Why Erythritol is Excellent for Weight Loss, But Not Digestion

As a sugar alcohol, erythritol isn’t digested by the body. This makes it have a lot of the sweet flavor people love from sugar and almost none of the calories. It’s common to find erythritol in low-calorie foods and even paired with monk fruit in certain brands to alter the flavor.

Stevia: A Flower and a Process

While some forms of Stevia grow wildly in states like New Mexico and Texas, the highest quality Stevia is found in Brazil. Natives in that South American region have been cooking with the sweet flavor leaves of Stevia for centuries.

Which Part is Used in Sweeteners?

While the entire plant isn’t approved as safe by the FDA, the extracted high-purity steviol glycosides are, which are the crucial components that give Stevia its unique flavor.

Studies Suggest that Stevia is Excellent for Treating Obesity

The Journal of Medicinal Food published a study in 2017 that suggested that Stevia could be used to treat obesity and other endocrine diseases. While more research is needed, it’s clear that this popular zero-calorie sweetener is a far better option than sugar.

Sucralose and Splenda - Created from Sugar

The origins of sucralose sound ominous at first, but over 100 studies attest to its safety. Sucralose comes directly from sugar, but through a scientific process, it becomes a zero-calorie sweetener that packs 600 times the sweetness. The most common place you’ll find sucralose is in its highly popular brand, Splenda.

Notes on the Origin of Sucralose

  • It was discovered accidentally by a British scientist in 1976.

  • When introduced in America in 1999, it was instantly popular.

  • Splenda is the leading brand and is used in hundreds of products.

A Brief Warning About Baking With Splenda

While hundreds of studies have shown Splenda to be safe, one study stated that when baking with Splenda, it can mix with glycerol from fat cells to create chloropropanols. These are known to have cancer-causing properties, so as the study suggests, there may be some risk in baking with Splenda.

Which is the Ideal Sweetener for Your Household?

From monk fruit to Stevia, the origins of these popular sweeteners vary wildly. But knowing the source of the foods you eat and understanding how they’re processed can give you a good idea about how healthy they truly are. Whether you prefer natural sweeteners or sugar alcohols which are also considered safe, there are a lot of ways to get all the sweetness you want without the empty calories of sugar.