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Siraitia grosvenorii is an herbaceous perennial vine native to southern People's Republic of China and Northern Thailand and best known for its fruit, the luo han guo (traditional Chinese: 羅漢果/simplified Chinese: 罗汉果; pinyin: luóhàn guǒ; literally "arhat fruit" or monk's fruit). It is one of four species in the genus Siraitia. Botanical synonyms include Momordica grosvenorii and Thladiantha grosvenorii. The fruit is one of several that have been called longevity fruit.
The other species of the genus Siraitia are: S. siamensis from Thailand, S. sikkimensis and S. silomaradjae from India, and S. taiwaniana from the Republic of China (Taiwan).
The vine grows to 3 to 5 m long, climbing over other plants by means of tendrils which twine round anything they touch. The narrow, heart-shaped leaves are 10–20 cm long. The fruit is globose, 5–7 cm in diameter, and contains a sweet, fleshy, edible pulp and numerous seeds.
The fruit extract is nearly 300 times sweeter than sugar and has been used as a natural sweetener in China for nearly a millennium due to its flavor and lack of food energy, only 2.3 kcal/g (9.6 kJ/g). It has also been used in traditional Chinese medicine.
Additional recommended knowledge
It is grown primarily in the southwestern Chinese province of Guangxi (mostly in the mountains of Guilin), as well as in Guangdong, Guizhou, Hunan, and Jiangxi. These mountains lend the plants shadows and often are surrounded by mists; because of this the plants are protected from the worst of the sun. Nonetheless, the climate in this southern province is warm. The plant is rarely found in the wild and has hence been cultivated for hundreds of years.
Records as early as 1813 mention the cultivation of this plant in the Guangxi province. At present, the Guilin mountains harbor a plantation of 16 square kilometers with a yearly output of about 10,000 fruits. Most of the plantations are located in Yongfu County and Lingui County, which in China are renowned for the extraordinary number of centenarians. This is usually attributed to the consumption of this fruit and the unspoiled nature. The inhabitants themselves, however, are of the opinion that the reason lies in their calm lifestyle and simple nutrition.
Longjiang town ("Dragon River") in Yongfu County has acquired the name "home of the Chinese luohanguo fruit"; a number of companies specialised in making luohanguo extracts and finished products have been set up in the area. The Yongfu Pharmaceutical Factory is the oldest of these.
The plant is most prized for its sweet fruits, which are used for medicinal purposes, and as a sweetener. The fruits are generally sold in dried form, and traditionally used in herbal tea or soup. They are used for respiratory ailments, sore throats and reputed to aid longevity.
The best way to describe the medicinal use of luohan guo in southern China during the 20th century can be found in the book  written by Dai and Liu. It was written in Chinese in 1982 and translated into English in 1986. Here is their description:
The sweet taste of luohan guo comes mainly from the mogrosides, a group of Triterpene-Glycosides that make up approximately 1% of the flesh of the fresh fruit. Through extraction, a powder containing 80% mogrosides can be obtained.
Five different mogrosides are known and they are known by names with the numbers 1 to 5. The main mogroside in this plant is mogroside-5, that was previously known as esgoside.
Other similar agents in luohan guo are Siamenoside and Neogroside.
The pure mogroside mix present results in a sweetness that is 300 times sweeter than sugar. The 80% mix is approximately 250 times sweeter. Pure mogroside-5 and -5 can be up to 400 times as sweet.
There are no reported incidents of negative side effects of luohan guo that are known. It is classed by the American Food and Drug Administration as a GRAS (generally recognized as safe) product. There are no restrictions on consuming the fruit or its extracts.
The plant also contains a glycoprotein called momorgrosvin, which has been shown to inhibit ribosomal protein synthesis
Cultivation and marketing
Luohan guo is harvested in the form of a round green fruit, which becomes brown on drying. It is rarely used in its fresh form, as it is hard to store. Furthermore, it develops a rotten taste on fermentation, which adds to the unwanted flavours already present.
Thus the fruits are usually dried before further use and are sold in precisely this fashion in Chinese herbal shops. The fruits are slowly dried in ovens, which preserves it and removes most of the unwanted aromas. However, this technique also leads to the formation of several bitter and astringent aromas. This limits the use of the dried fruits and extracts to the preparation of diluted tea, soup, and as a sweetener for products that would usually have sugar or honey added to them.
The Procter & Gamble process
The process for the manufacture of a useful sweetener from luohan guo was patented in 1995 by Procter & Gamble. The patent states that, while luohan guo is very sweet, it has too many interfering aromas, which render it useless for general application. Thus the company developed a process for the removal of the interfering aromas.
In this process, the fresh fruit is harvested before it is fully mature, and is then matured in storage so that it may be processed precisely when it is mature. The shell and seeds are then removed, and the pulped fruit is made into a fruit concentrate or puree. This is then used in the further production of food. Solvents are used, amongst other things, to remove the interfering aromas.
There are a number of commercially prepared luohan guo products:
One of the most famous ones is powdered instant luohan guo, which is also sold by the Yongfu company. It is sold in China, Hong Kong and in Chinese shops in the West.
In addition, there are a number of other products which contain luohan guo either on its own or in a mix with other herbs. For example it is used with Ginkgo against cough, with chrysanthemum against heatstroke and headache or with asparagus, Oldenlandia, Scutellaria, and pearl powder to detoxify.
During the Tang dynasty, Guilin was one of the most important Buddhist retreats containing many temples. The fruit was named after the arhats (Chinese: 罗汉; pinyin: luóhàn), a group of Buddhist monks who, due to their proper way of life and meditation, achieved enlightenment and were said to have been redeemed. According to Chinese history, the fruit was first mentioned in the records of the 13th century monks who used it.
However, plantation space was limited: it consisted mainly in the slopes of the Guangxi and Guangdong mountains, and to a lesser degree in Guizhou, Hunan, Jiangxi, and Hainan. This and the difficulty of cultivation meant that the fruit did not become part of the Chinese herbal tradition, which depended on more readily available products. This is also the reason why one finds no mention of it in the traditional guides to herbs.
Rediscovery in the 20th century
The herb became better known in the 20th century. The first report on the herb in English was found in an unpublished manuscript written in 1938 by Professor G. W. Groff and Hoh Hin Cheung. The report stated that the fruits were often used as the main ingredients of "cooling drinks," that is, as remedies for hot weather, fever, or other dysfunctions traditionally associated with warmth or heat.
It was known that the juice of the fruits was very sweet.
Groff and Hoh realised that the fruit was an important Chinese domestic remedy for the treatment of cold and pneumonia when consumed with pork.
Interviews have confirmed that the fruit only recently gained importance in Chinese history. Nonetheless, it appears that a small group of people had mastered its cultivation a long time ago and had accumulated extensive knowledge on growth, pollination, and climatic requirements of the plant.
The fruit came to the United States in the early 20th century. Groff mentions that during a visit to the American ministry of agriculture in 1917, the botanic Frederick Coville showed him a luohanguo fruit bought in a Chinese shop in Washington. Seeds of the fruit which had been bought in Chinese shop in San Francisco were entered into the universal botanic description of the species in 1941.
The first research into the sweet component of luohanguo is attributed to C. H. Lee, who wrote an English report on it in 1975, and also to Tsunematsu Takemoto, who worked on it the early 1980s in Japan (later Takemoto decided to concentrate on the similar sweet plant, jiaogulan).
The development of luohanguo products in China has continued ever since, focusing in particular on the development of concentrated extracts.
Much of the content of this article comes from the equivalent German-language Wikipedia article (retrieved February 16, 2006).
|This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Siraitia_grosvenorii". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.|