November 23, 2016
THE SWEETEST FRUIT ON EARTH
Luohan guo is the sweetest fruit on earth. It does not contain any sugar. This unique fruit is native to Southern China and Northern Thailand. With time, the plant also travelled to a few more countries in South East Asia. But still it is not known to most parts of the world. In fact, the outside world came to know about this fruit barely a hundred years ago. This is also called arhat fruit or monk’s fruit.
Luohan guo, whose botanical name is Siraitia grosvenorii, belongs to the botanical family Cucurbitaceae, to which belong some of our popular vegetables like lauki, kaddu etc. Luohan guo is, however, a perennial plant and not a seasonal vine like its Indian relatives.
The sweetness of luohan guo is due to a chemical mogroside in its pulp. Mogroside is 300 times sweeter than the sugar. The pulp of luohan guo contains around 1 percent mogroside making it the sweetest fruit on earth.
Luohan guo plant:
Luohan guo is a vine. Being a climber, it requires some kind of support to grow. The vine reaches a height of 3-5 metres. It has 10-20 cm long, narrow, heart shaped leaves. The vine is a vigorous grower and a prolific bearer. However, for getting optimum yield, it has to be provided right kind of support and made to grow on trellis or bowers. The plant lives from 5-7 years and has to be replanted after that. Propagation is by seed. The cultivation is simple and does not require any specialized skill.
Luogon huo fruits are round, measuring 5-7 cm across. The fruits are green in the beginning but turn slightly brown at maturity. Each fruit contains numerous seeds.
The fruits are not eaten fresh. They also do not keep long and start rotting very soon. So after harvesting, these are dried slowly in the oven. They turn black after drying. The fruits are sold in shops only in that form.
For eating, the dried fruits are cut it into half and put into a bowl. Then boiling water is poured on them. The water is decanted after 2-3 minutes and then drunk like a juice.
The dried fruits are also used as a sweetening agent in various preparations. Chinese believe that the fruits have a highly beneficial effect on human health and increase age. That is why this fruit is also called a “longevity fruit” in China.
In addition to being a general health tonic, this fruit is also used to cure respiratory ailments and sore throats.
Use in industry:
The real scope for utilization of luohan guo lies in the pharmaceutical industry. Though a number of products are being prepared from these fruits, the real potential lies in the manufacture of non-sugar sweeteners, whose demand is increasing day by day all over the world. Plant based sweeteners have been rated better and safer than the synthetic chemical sweeteners. One of the multinational companies, Procter and Gamble, has already standardized and patented a technique for mogroside extraction from luohan guo fruits.
Prospects in India:
Luohoan guo should be able to grow successfully in North India. In fact, one of its relative species, Siraitia sikkimensis, already grows in the Eastern Himalayas. The plant grows from seed which can be imported at a very low cost. The bearing starts in a few months. So there will not be a long gestation period.
Therefore this fruit should be introduced and tried in North India at the earliest. As the initial cost will not be much, so even some enterprising private farmers can also try it.
Luohan guo v/s Stevia:
At present, Stevia is being promoted in India for meeting the demand of plant based non-sugar sweeteners. It is being done for the past few years. But cultivation of Stevia has limitations in Haryana, Punjab,and HP. Stevia is a tropical plant whereas this area has a subtropical climate. The target part in Stevia is leaves. However, leaves are not formed by the plant round the year in these regions due to unfavourably high and low temperatures prevailing during few months. This does not happen in tropics where the leaf formation goes on through out the year. So the yield is quite low and Stevia growers of North cannot compete with growers from South.
But luohan guo is not a tropical plant. The target part in this case is fruit which are borne normally in subtropical climate. So in case of luohan guo, there is not going to be any yield problem like Stevia. Therefore it should suit more to our climate.
Fruits of luohan guo