Friday, March 20, 2015

What is Stevia?

'Stevia' is a small, leafy plant that was first discovered over 200 years ago by the native people in South America. It is part of the sunflower family and its leaves are naturally sweet. They contain different sweet tasting components scientifically called, 'steviol glycosides'

Purified stevia leaf extract (or stevia) is a plant based, zero calorie, high intensity sweetener that is 200-350 times sweeter than sugar. You will find it in many foods and beverages including; soft drinks, yogurt, salad dressings, sauces and more. To see if a product is made with stevia, check the ingredient label for; stevia, stevia extract, stevia leaf extract, rebaudioside A, Reb A, stevioside or steviol glycosides, depending on the country and manufacturer.

Regulatory  health agencies around the world have approved high purity stevia leaf extract for safe use. This includes special populations such as pregnant and nursing women, children, people with allergies and diabetes. It is safe for people with diabetes because it does not contain any calories or carbohydrates and therefore does not affect blood glucose or insulin levels. This also means it does not feed candida. For people trying to manage their weight, stevia provides a way to cut calories without having to sacrifice taste... and it is tooth friendly!

When it comes to cooking or baking, you can use stevia in almost anything that uses sugar, honey, maple syrup or other sweeteners. Since stevia is so much sweeter than sugar, it is not a one-to-one substitution when using tabletop stevia in recipes. A manufacturers conversion chart is a good place to start but be prepared for some trial and error to find your desired level of sweetness. It is also important to remember that stevia will provide sweetness but lacks in sugar's quality to brown foods or add a tender texture to baked goods. Some recipes may require a mix of sugar and stevia to ultimately produce the qualities you desire in the recipe. I recently found the following tip on a blog but have not yet tried it myself, "...if you have added too much stevia to a recipe, or if the taste is too strong, don't throw out your hard work, instead, freeze it for a day or two (letting it sit in the fridge works well too). Don't know the science behind it but for some reason this dissipates the unpleasantness resulting from too much stevia."        

A few different brands of Stevia; available in packets, powder and liquid
Most people find stevia has a distinctive taste. Some find it unpleasant while others are oblivious! Taste buds on the human tongue contain receptors to identify sweet and bitter chemical compounds. Chemical compounds found in the stevia plant interact with both the sweet and bitter receptors, leading to its bitter aftertaste. Just be aware it can be an acquired taste, the more you try it the less you will taste it. This said, not all stevia extracts are created equal. Over the years, I have tried five different brands, while some are palatable, others just do not make the cut! Do a little experimenting, try liquid and powder, (I prefer liquid) and see what is best for your palate.

For the gardeners out there, try planting a few stevia plants. It grows like any other herb or flowering plant and requires lots of sunshine and water for the best yield.   
For recipes and more information, visit the Global Stevia Institute website at

Till next week... Bon Appetit!

Photo by Sally Rae

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