Stevia rebaudiana is a shrub native to South America. Its leaves have been used there for centuries to sweeten beverages. Stevia-based sweeteners have zero calories, yet are as much as 200-300 times sweeter than sucrose (table sugar). Some products may have a bitter taste.
According to Dr Andrew Weil (http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/QAA400318/Is-Stevia-Really-Safe) in an article he wrote in December 2007, “Stevia comes from an herb in the chrysanthemum family called Stevia rebaudiana. It is native to Paraguay, also grows in Brazil and Argentina, and is cultivated in China. The leaves have been used for centuries by native peoples to make sweet teas, or to sweeten other foods, with no evidence of harm. It is available in the United States and the European Union as a dietary supplement and is sold here in whole-leaf form or as stevioside, the extracted sweet principle, sold as a granular white powder.”
Although there had been some controversy about Stevia use here in the U.S. in the early 90s, things have changed, and in 2008 the FDA approved the use of rebaudioside A, which is derived from the Stevia plant, as a sugar alternative. There is little reason to be concerned as it has been considered a safe alternative to sugar in many countries and its long history of medicinal use in Brazil and Paraguay substantiates its nutritive and health value. As a matter of fact, the Guarani people of Paraguay have used the Stevia plant for over 1500 years! It is also used in many countries in the Far East, Middle East, and South America.
I first became acquainted with Stevia because it was used as a sweetener in a beverage I was drinking on a regular basis in the early 90s called Yerba Mate, which came from Paraguay. I loved the fact that it had no calories yet was so much sweeter than sugar that I only had to use a very small amount. It wasn’t as readily available back then, but nowadays you can find Stevia from several different companies in the sugar aisle of the grocery store. And of course in health food stores as well. Stevia comes in liquid, granulated powder, and in serving-size packets for convenience of having on hand when you are away from home.
Since some brands may have a bitter taste, you might want to try different brands to see which one is the most suitable to your taste buds. Stevia can be used in baking but you need to realize that because it’s so much sweeter than regular sugar you will need to adjust the amount you use.
- Advantages: Less is more. Stevia is much sweeter than sugar, so less is needed. It is an option for people with diabetes as it does not affect blood sugar levels. A 2011 review study in the International Journal of Food Science Nutrition concluded that stevia sweeteners would likely benefit people suffering from diabetes.
- Drawbacks: Some extracts have a bitter taste. It is billed as “natural,” but technically is processed.
Until next time — to YOUR health!