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Sweet Little Mystery

Ubiquitous in Chinese medicine stores, luo han guo is a little green fruit whose unassuming looks hide some startling qualities. Crave unpeels Asia’s sweet secret.

Text by Mandy Li, photo by Samantha Sin, illustrations by Yanny Cheng


Follow the Wisdom

A product of Guangxi, China, luo han guo (Siraitia grosvenorii) has long been to treat coughs caused by “heat” in the body and as a natural sweetener – it is 200 times sweeter than sugar. The dried fruit is cheap and widely available in Chinese medicine stores, often packaged in unappealing boxes. Yet registered Chinese medicine practitioner Cinci Leung says its brittle green skin hides a medicinal gem.

Is luo han guo for everyone?

Luo han guo is cool in nature, so it is not recommended for those with weak constitutions or who suffer from excess coldness, exhibited as an aversion to cold, cold hands and feet, shortness of breath or dizziness. Luo han guo is not particularly effective for coughs caused by exopathogenic wind-cold.

The fruit is suitable for those with body types that are more “hot”, perhaps with bloodshot eyes, dry mouth, or sore throat owing to overuse of the voice, especially among those with occupations such as teaching or sales. These people may be smokers or work late nights; they may be easily annoyed and have darker urine, harder stools and may be easily constipated.

What are the benefits of luo han guo?

As luo han guo is cool in nature, it offers effective relief of cough and phlegm (light, yellowish type) as well as sore throats and constipation.

What should we take note of when consuming luo han guo?

Eat it in moderation. Like other types of food, it has its own benefits and predisposition, so it is important to consume with caution while being aware of its effects on your body type.

When should we eat luo han guo?

Luo han guo tea helps to relieve symptoms associated with: cough accompanied by phlegm that is slightly yellow, sore throat, dry mouth; pain in the pharynx, dry or sore throat; hard stools or constipation.

What is the difference between fresh and dried luo han guo?

Fresh luo han guo nourishes and soothes coughs and related symptoms, including dry or sore throats and hard stools. Dried luo han guo serves to “eliminate” and soothe coughs.

How is luo han guo dried?

After harvesting, the skin of the luo han guo gradually turns from green to brownish yellow. The fruit then goes through a 48-hour heating and drying process.

Fresh and dried luo han guo offer similar benefits and both act to clear heat, nourish the lungs, provide cough relief, and “lubricate” the intestines. It can be used for the treatment of coughs caused by “fire” in the lungs, pain in the pharynx and loss of voice, and constipation.

However, as the drying process significantly reduces its coolness, fresh luo han guo is much cooler than the dried variety. Those with weaker constitutions or who suffer from excess coldness should avoid the fresh variety. Fresh luo han guo is also not recommended for people suffering from a cough or sore throat caused by flu, or who are experiencing chills or have transparent or white phlegm.

Prices vary from $5 to $20 per piece – why is there such a big difference?

The price varies with quality. Good-quality dried luo han guo should not make any sound when shaken – if it rattles, something has gone wrong during the drying process and its effects will be limited. The best luo han guo are large, heavy and do not rattle. If you are unsure how to select one of good quality, visit a reputable Chinese medicine store.

Luo han guo is 200 times sweeter than sugar. How can it be used as a natural sweetener?

Fresh luo han guo has a fruity aroma and is easily made into tea by boiling the fruit for 10 minutes. Or use it in a dessert to lower the sugar content of the dish.

How often should we drink luo han guo tea?

As luo han guo is cool in nature, it should not be consumed daily. For specific dosages, consult a Chinese medicine practitioner.
Luo han guo tea may be taken once or twice a week.

Some people add honey, wolfberry and dates to luo han guo tea. What ingredients should not be paired with luo han guo?

It is more important to consume luo han guo in moderation while being aware of its effects on your particular body type. Honey enhances the lubricating strength of luo han guo to nourish and soothe the intestines and bowels. To reduce the “coolness” of luo han guo, add citrus peel or ginger.

Can bathing in luo han guo water cure eczema and athlete’s foot?

Luo han guo is cool in nature so it acts to clear heat. It is somewhat effective in relieving itchiness caused by eczema. To prepare luo han guo water, infuse one or two dried luo han guo in boiling water for about 30 minutes. Soak cotton in the prepared water and apply to affected areas twice a day (in the morning and at night). If symptoms persist, stop using the water immediately and consult a Chinese medicine practitioner.

Can luo han guo be eaten raw?

Luo han guo should not be consumed raw. They must be cooked before eating.

Licorice menthol is often confused with luo han guo – is it made from the fruit?

Licorice menthol is not made from luo han guo, but from a variety of Chinese medicinal herbs. It may be eaten directly and offers some relief from sore throats and related symptoms, but must also be taken in moderation.

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Cooking with Luo Han Guo

Luo han guo can be used for more than making tea, says Norma Chu, founder of DayDayCook.

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