Stevia is a plant native to South America, and particularly Paraguay. However it can be grown in any sub tropical or tropical climate. It is now grown in China and Japan.
Its leaves are between 15 and 30 times sweeter than sugar. The sweetness comes from two compounds in the plant called steviosides and rebaudiosides, and they are up to 300 times as sweet as sugar.
It is a natural product. Zero glycemic index. Very sweet. Not harmful to teeth. Very suitable for diabetics. Seems to assist in the regulation of blood sugar levels, and this is quite apart from the fact it contains no carbohydrates. Is heat stable and suitable for use in cooking and in processed food.
No concerns unless you have a vested interest in the sale of sugar or other sweeteners. Some of the products can have a bitter or licorice flavour. The more concentrated forms are superior.
Of the two compounds Rebaudioside A is the sweetest and has the least aftertaste. This can be extracted naturally using water. However techniques using Ethanol are more economical and have raised concerns in some quarters. However Ethanol is just plain old alcohol by another name, and none remains in the extract. Should not really be a concern.
Sold as dried and powdered leaves or as concentrated stevioside. Coca cola have a product called Truvia, and Pepsi have a product called PureVia. Both of these are mixtures of Rebaudioside A and Erythritol in a granulated form that is convenient to use. They both have approx 4 times the sweetness of sugar and almost zero calories.
Has been used for centuries by native Indians in Paraguay in South America. Has been used in Japan since the early 1970s and it now accounts for 40% of the sweetener market there. Diet Coke in Japan is made with Stevia.
Approved in Japan for decades. Not yet approved in EU, but Rebaudioside A, an extract, has recently been given the green light. Also approved in Australia, New Zealand, China, Korea, Thailand and most of South America. Rebaudioside A was approved in the USA in 2008.
Conclusions and Summary:
Excellent natural zero calorie sweetener with no side effects. Some will prefer the less processed versions, i.e. the raw powdered herb. However some of these have a rather bitter flavour. Stevia is already making inroads into the sweetener market in the USA. Expect to see other new exciting natural sweeteners on the market soon including Monk Fruit (Luo Han Guo).
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