What is Stevia?
Stevia is a plant native to Central and South America, the leaves of which are naturally very sweet. It has been used for centuries in Paraguay and Brazil as a sweetener. Stevia is available in many forms:
- Pure ground powder – this is the cheapest form, and is simply the ground leaves, so is green in colour and has the natural taste of stevia, which is similar to liquorice
- Extracts – these are usually white in colour and vary in consistency from very fine powder, similar to icing sugar, to the very sweet crystals which are more concentrated. They have no flavour, unlike commercial sweeteners based on aspartame. When choosing an extract, the way to tell the quality is by the concentration of Rebaudioside A. As the concentration increases, the sweetness increases exponentially. So an extract with 98% Rebaudioside A will be significantly sweeter than one with 97%.
- Tabs/tablets – these are commercially produced in a handy dose for ease of use
Introduction to the EU
There has been controversy surrounding the safety of Stevia because until recently it was not approved in the EU. However, all novel foods go through an approval process, and Stevia had not gone through this process, as opposed to having been banned for safety reasons. In 2011 approval was gained in the EU and immediately many of the largest sugar companies released their sugar/stevia blended sweeteners (e.g. Silver Spoon = Truvia, Tate & Lyle = Tasteva). Stevia was available in the USA from the 1990s, and has been commercially used as a sweetener in Japan for over 40 years, as a national response to the carcinogenic effect of sweeteners such as saccharin. Today, Stevia is available to varying degrees in many many countries.
As long as 1500 years ago, Stevia has been used by the Guarani indians as a folk medicine for obesity, high blood pressure, and a cardiac stimulant. Today, stevia is attractive because of our taste for all things sweet, it is great if you are dieting, diabetic, or just want to cut back a little on sugar to avoid those sugar highs/lows.
Although most supermarkets stock Stevia products, most of the readily available blends have a low Stevia content, due to the high cost of pure stevia extracts.
Why not give Stevia a try?!