Intake of added cane sugars can lead to lifestyle-associated diseases such as insulin resistance, type-2 diabetes, liver problems, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, etc. As per a World Health Organization (WHO) report, presently about 422 million people are diabetic worldwide. Several synthetic sweeteners of low calorific value have recently been launched in the market by the pharmaceutical and food industries. However, their possible health issues generally restrict their wider acceptability. Therefore, scientists around the globe are continuously working on the development of safe and non-nutritive natural sweeteners.
The monk fruit (Siraitia grosvenorii) is known for its intensely sweet taste and is used as a non-caloric natural sweetener. The sweet taste of monk fruit is attributed to cucurbitane-type triterpene glycosides known as mogrosides, which is about 300 times sweeter than sucrose or cane sugar. The purified mogroside has been approved as a high-intensity sweetening agent in Japan, and has been approved under the category of Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) non-nutritive sweetener in the USA.
Despite its high demand, this crop is only cultivated in China. However, suitable agro-climatic conditions are also available in India, particularly in Himachal Pradesh. Keeping in mind the importance and essentiality of non-nutritive natural sweeteners, and diverse agro-climatic conditions in India, CSIR-IHBT, Palampur, made relentless efforts for introducing monk fruit in the country through proper channel, and finally brought monk fruit seeds for the first time in the country from China through ICAR-NBPGR, New Delhi, in March 2018 with import permit No. 168/2017.
Dr Probir Kumar Pal, Principal Scientist along with other team members developed the technology for the generation of quality planting material, its basic agronomic cultivation practices, fruiting technique and post-harvest management. At present, monk fruit is successfully being cultivated at CSIR-IHBT with good quality fruits under farm conditions. The plant prefers a mountainous area with an annual mean temperature of about 16-20°C and humid conditions. Himachal Pradesh is a suitable place for large scale cultivation.
Initially, the project was funded by CSIR. However, now its cultivation is being promoted in the state with financial support from Himachal Pradesh Council for Science, Technology & Environment (HIMCOSTE), Shimla.
Dr Sanjay Kumar, Director, CSIR-IHBT initiated the monk fruit cultivation programme in Himachal Pradesh by planting its seedlings in a progressive farmer’s field (Shri Manav Khullar) at Raison, Kullu on 12 July 2021. Mr Nishant Thakur, Member Secretary, HIMCOSTE was also present at the time of the plantation.
On this occasion, CSIR-IHBT signed a Material Transfer Agreement with Shri Manav Khullar, Village & Post office Raison, Distt Kullu (HP) and provided 50 plants (free of cost) of monk fruit for field trials. Dr Probir Kumar Pal and Dr Ramesh Kumar, scientists from CSIR-IHBT, also trained the farmers in monk fruit cultivation and established a monk fruit demonstration plot.