[Luo han guo (China); La han qua (Viet); longevity fruit (not unique); Fructus Momordicae (Pharm); Siraitia grosvenorii]
Native to southern China and northern Thailand, and related to the Bitter Gourds, this fruit has recently become much better known in the West. Extracts from this fruit are 300 times sweeter than sugar with almost no calories. The US FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has recently rated the fruit and extracts from it as GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe), so they will soon be included as natural sweeteners in any number of products and are now easily purchased on-line. This sweetener has not yet been shown to have the serious negative effects of artificial sweeteners, but sufficient studies looking for those have yet to be conducted.
The fruits grow on vines and are between 2 to 2-3/4 inches diameter with sweet, fleshy edible pulp and many seeds. Monk Fruit is a rather finicky grower, but techniques for cultivation have been well developed in a few places in southern China. This fruit has long been used medicinally to treat heatstroke, throat infections and diabetes. It is not used fresh as it doesn't keep well and has objectional aromas and flavors. It is generally oven dried, after which it has different objectional tastes and aromas. Modern processing techniques are capable of removing these. Photo by KasugaHuang distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported.
More on Gourds
This photo shows a dried monk fruit broken open. Photo by Badagnani distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported.
Buying: The dried form can be found in Chinese Herbal shops and supplement tablets can be found in the usual "Health Food" outlets.
Cooking: The dried fruit is steeped in hot water along with other herbals to make tonic teas, particularly for sore throat and heatstroke.