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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

What is Stevia?

steviaWhat is Stevia? Stevia is a "new" sugar substitute that is starting to hit supermarkets and diet foods in the US, and more than likely, you've heard it mentioned in some marketing by now. In fact, the other day I saw a food that was labeled as "low calorie" and "free of artificial sweeteners," but I noticed that it had Stevia in it. The marketing kind of threw me for a loop since the health safety of Stevia is still being debated, just like that of other artificial sweeteners. So, I decided to do some reading, and I thought I'd post some of what I learned here for you to learn too!

Just a quick disclaimer -- I'm not an expert on any of this, just another average person gathering and consolidating information already publicly available on the Internet. I also should be clear that I don't know how I feel about Stevia yet (so this posting should be pretty neutral), although I did recently try it out of curiosity to see what it tasted like.

What is Stevia?
Stevia is actually a plant native to South America and Central America. Its leaves are extremely sweet, and other countries have been leveraging Stevia as a sugar substitute for several decades since it is virtually calorie free and does not affect blood glucose (just like other artificial sweeteners).

Why did the U.S. ban Stevia?
Not everyone agrees on this as some people think it is for health reasons (Stevia caused some alarming reactions in mice in a study that was done), while other people think it was banned for political reasons. The validity of the study continues to be debated. Nonetheless, Stevia is now available in the U.S., and companies are starting to integrate it into their diet products and sell it in small packets.

How does Stevia differ from other artificial sweeteners?
Stevia is actually a natural extract, as opposed to other artificial sweeteners that are synthesized chemicals. However, I have seen "Stevia packets" that have other ingredients in them (like sugar alcohols), so it is important to carefully read the ingredients on any boxes of Stevia you buy.

What does Stevia taste like?
I bought a box of Stevia packets (that contain White Stevia Powder) to see what Stevia tastes like. I found out that it basically tastes like other sugar substitutes -- very strong, sweet, and not quite as good as sugar.

Where can I learn more?
Like I mentioned earlier, I just did a bit of research on the Internet to learn what I've posted above. Unfortunately, since Stevia is so controversial it will be difficult to get concrete data at this point in time, so we each have to decide for ourselves what we think.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on Stevia in the comments.



Anonymous said...

i just baked a cake this weekend with stevia (recipe on my site - it's called crazy cake) and it was great :) i was very pleased with it. i don't like stevia in my oatmeal though. it makes it taste weird.

The Blonde Duck said...

Very informative. I'll have to look into it.

Anonymous said...

Stevia is good for baking cakes but I think it is too sweet to sweeten you tea and I dont like the taste in my tea. However its not a strong taste, so I can't really say what it tastes like. Beat all chemical sweetener though but I think I prefer agave as a natural sweetener.
Its a good option thought I am definately pro-stevia!

Balance, Joy and Delicias! said...

I'm so glad that finally I can open your blog!

this post is so useful since stevia will be seen everywhere from now on!
thanks for sharing!

Bianca said...

About 2 years ago I was over joyed when I heard about Stevia. Told my mom all about and we ordered like 4 hundred pounds...didn't like the taste...we now use it in smoothies. But for tea/coffee I've recently started using Agave, as it's more natural. I'm trying to be artifical sweetner free. Diet Coke is hard for me to resist.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info on Stevia!
I am a long-time user of Stevia bc I used to get it at supplement stores before I could find it at retail stores. I get mine now at Trader Joe's. They sell the packets and a large shaker for very reasonable prices.

For those of you who tried Stevia, and wrote it off..
I would say give it some time. I hated Stevia before and after eating it for a few weeks It becomes an aquired taste. I eat it every morning with my oatmeal and it beats the heck out of Splenda.

The Diva on a Diet said...

Like you, Juliet, I haven't made up my mind about Stevia ... or any of the artificial sweeteners for that matter. I prefer pure Agave nectar as I'm still dubious about the long term health effects of these other products. I don't sweeten my drinks at all, nor to I drink diet soda, so I generally don't use or buy sweeteners. I keep the agave around for use in non-fat plain yogurt and such. I bake with real sugar, and just eat less of it.

Anonymous said...

I use real sugar when I really do use it, which is not very often. Thanks for the information.

Caitlin said...

Hi- good post. I used to use stevia all the time in my coffee, but then I switched to good old fashioned sugar in the raw. The fear for people (at least in the past) is that as a supplement it wasn't being regulated so it wasn't necessarily pure (though look at peanut butter, apparently that isn't being regulated too:). Many cultures have been using it forever, but for me, I think a little sugar in moderation is ok.

Thanks for sharing the info!

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for the stevia info. I'd like to try that.

Anonymous said...

I haven't decided how I feel about Stevia either. I like that it's natural, but I have some Stevia-for-baking and I don't like the taste at all. But it's powdered and it's specifically for baking, so maybe the liquid form etc would taste better? I don't know... and it's so expensive so I'm hesitant to do that.

Thanks for the info on it.

Anonymous said...

The fact that Whole Foods carries Stevia and not Splenda says a lot to me. The Whole Foods I go to has a Jamba Juice in it. I always get the Matcha Green Tea Mist but because it's made with Splenda, they aren't allowed to serve it there. Has anyone ready Skinny Bitch? There's a whole political story behind Splenda and the FDA. Pretty scary stuff.

Anonymous said...

Well I definitely love stevia products.Its a no side effect sweetener and its as cheap as sugar in India if we compare the amount required for same amount of sweetness.
I love it yummy.............

Anonymous said...

I use Stevia Extract in the Raw. This all natural zero calorie sweetener tastes GREAT in all my drinks. I drink coffee everyday for my quick pick me up in the morning and love the taste of it when I use this product.

Maha said...

I've been using Stevia for a few months now. I sweeten my almond breeze (25 drops in 1 cup), iced tea (for 1 gal iced tea, I use less than 1/2 tsp Stevia), oatmeal, spaghetti sauce, lasagna sauce, almost everything except baking. The taste depends on the brand. I use NuNaturals pure extract powder and liquid forms. I started with Sweetleaf, but that left a bitter after taste. Even with NuNaturals, if you use too much, you'll notice a difference. It's not bitter, but it's like having too much sugar-the sweetness is overpowering. I've also done research, and concluded that Stevia is safe, and I'm comfortable enough to give it to my kids. You have to experiment to get the desired sweetness. With baking, I'm still not sure, because of the bulk missing if you don't use sugar. But I'm going to check out the cake someone made with Stevia in the comments here.

LadyPinkCheeks said...

hey, i've been a fan of stevia for a while now... don't really like the sweetleaf brand (tastes funky to me)... my favorite brand in terms of overall quality is the packet stevita, although powder nustevia tastes better to me (although it contains malodextetrin and yields carbs and sugar, unlike stevita)
looking for other stevia brands that taste more like real sugar. any suggestions? Thanks

Anonymous said...

I have been using the brand TRUVIA for just over 2 months and have lost 63 pounds using it. The Truvia has the same texture as sugar and is really good to dip strawberries in. I also sweeten my iced tea with it and it is wonderful. I am from the south so that says alot about this brand. Try it!

Sunny said...

Hello, :) Nice to see a great bog about Stevia! I have been using the Stevia powder for about 5 years, but could only buy it at the Natural food stores.

Now I buy stevia extract which is: Truvia. It has no chemicals and is made from the sweet leaf of the Stevia plant.

I have a pancreas disease caused by one of my meds (Medrol) so I just cannot eat sugar!

Aspartame and the others are all chemicals and will kill us, as they are poison!

Now I'm off to check out your dessert links! :)

Thankyouuu for a very informative blog about this!

Anonymous said...

Hello thanks for the info about this incredible plant I really need to try it. Can someone tell me where can I buy it?
thank you very much!

Kellie said...

I like the idea that its all natural...but...has anyone noticed...headaches from using it?

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