The average consumer may not have heard about stevia until recently because of its current FDA approval as a dietary supplement, not as a sweetener or food additive. Numerous studies worldwide tout its overall safety and health benefits. As of this writing, about ten countries, including Japan, Paraguay and Brazil have approved stevia as a sweetener and/or food additive. The FDA approved the use of stevia only as a dietary supplement since 1995. This means stevia companies must maintain a fairly low profile, thereby limiting its distribution and marketing potential. For instance, health food stores and natural grocers must place stevia in the supplements section, not with the natural sweeteners for fear of the FDA mandate. The stores cannot promote the “sweetening” qualities of stevia, even though that’s why it is purchased.
Stevia can be used as a healthy substitute in most sugar applications, including baking and cooking since it is heat stable. The average conversion rate of sugar to stevia is one cup of sugar per one teaspoonful of pure stevia extract. Clearly very little stevia is needed to replace sugar. When used in beverages, stevia dissolves quickly and easily and, depending on your taste preference, only a pinch is needed. The real challenge to using stevia effectively is knowing what ingredients to use in a recipe to make up for the volume and consistency lost with the elimination of sugar, especially in baked goods. That’s why it’s a good idea to find stevia cookbooks with proven recipes when you’re starting out. You can also find some free recipes online. Finally, stevia is not appropriate in recipes that require sugar caramelizing or browning like meringues.
Stevia is available in many forms including liquid, teas, plants/leaves, pure white and green powdered extract and powdered blends with different fillers. In baking, the pure extract is used primarily and, in some cases, the liquid variety. Stevia can be purchased at health food stores, natural grocers, food coops and online. Currently a big push is underway to expand distribution into grocery stores, vitamin shops and drugstores.
Due to the number of factors that can influence your stevia purchase experience, the following guidelines provide some good advice:
Widespread use of sugar and artificial sweeteners are at dangerous levels. The negative side effects and controversial studies regarding their proposed safety suggest that another alternative is desirable and necessary. Stevia may be a welcome option for those who want to ingest more natural ingredients with no known side effects, no calories, no carbs, no fat, no affect on glucose levels and no sugar or artificial sweeteners. Stevia may also be advantageous in the prevention and treatment of diabetes, obesity and other health conditions. Check with your doctor before including stevia to your diet. If he/she doesn’t recommend it, politely ask why to see if the reason is satisfactory to you.
- You often do get what you pay for; don’t buy based solely on price; taste and quality matter.
- Higher % of stevioside doesn’t necessarily make the stevia better; you can find excellent tasting stevia with this key plant composition at even 80%.
- If you purchase the green powder for its slightly higher health benefits, it will usually have more aftertaste than the white powder.
- The product’s country of origin doesn’t matter; it’s farming, manufacturing and processing experience and techniques do.
- At this time, stevia production is not standardized, so taste and strength do differ depending on brand.
- Use a minimal amount; can be overwhelming if you add too much initially; add more later if needed.