Natural Alternative Sweeteners: What’s Next After Stevia?

by Christine Hronec

 
Let’s be honest, we all have a sweet tooth that makes it a challenge to stay in top shape when the body is simply craving sugar. Today’s consumers are seeking healthy alternatives with lower calories and even added wellness perks. The market for natural sweeteners has exploded with stevia as the early entrant into the market. Stevia has gained remarkable popularity for having a light, sweet taste being naturally derived from the leaves of the stevia plant without adding any calories. However there are a steady stream of new, healthy, and natural alternatives that are starting to gain momentum in the market.

Monk Fruit

The monk fruit is a small, sweet melon native to China and has been used in Southeast Asia as an herbal medicine and sweetener for hundreds of years. Also known in the Western world as “lo han” after the fruit’s traditional Chinese name luo han guo, monk fruit-derived sweeteners have attracted attention as they are marketed as having zero carbs and low or no calories. Monk fruit sweeteners are made from monk fruit extract, which is 200- to 300-times sweeter than sugar.

Consumers may also be drawn to monk fruit as a sweetener since it originates from a fruit, unlike plant-based alternatives such as stevia. Sales of products featuring lo han spiked after FDA classified the sweetener as generally recognized as safe (GRAS) in 2010. According to SPINS, these products grew by 42 percent in 2011 compared to previous year in natural, specialty gourmet, and conventional all-outlet combined retail channels. With the recent expansion of lo han to new product categories—namely tabletop sweeteners and herbal formulas —and its growing popularity within the mainstream market, sales of lo han sweeteners and sweetened products have soared to more than USD $60 million with 70-percent growth in the past year (52 weeks ending July 6, 2013).

Coconut Palm Sugar

Coconut palm sugar has garnered attention because it looks, tastes, dissolves and melts like sugar, but is less processed and more nutritious. Pure certified organic coconut palm sugar is made from the nectar of the coconut palm tree and is naturally rich in a number of key vitamins including potassium, zinc, iron and B vitamins.

The number of calories in pure coconut palm sugar is almost identical to that of regular refined sugar (about 15 per teaspoon). However, coconut palm sugar has a lower glycemic index so it is absorbed into the bloodstream at a significantly slower rate, making it a viable sugar substitute for diabetics or those looking to avoid blood sugar spikes.

Flavor is another reason to switch to coconut palm sugar. It can vary since the product is not highly processed, but it is typically known as being subtly sweet like brown sugar, yet richer and more Coconut palm sugar’s unique flavor profile and absence of a bitter aftertaste makes it ideal for use both in the raw and in baking.

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