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.