Stevia 101: Everything You Need to Know About Stevia

In the modern world, everybody is looking for healthy alternatives to their daily diet. This has resulted in an increased demand for natural foods, and people are now paying attention to the ingredients they consume on a daily basis. Stevia is one of the natural sweeteners being used more and more by individuals who want to control what they eat while also keeping their sugar intake low. This article outlines the history, benefits, and uses of stevia. 

History of Stevia

Stevia is a natural sweetener that is made using the Stevioside extracts derived from the leaves of the Stevia plant, scientifically known as Stevia rebaudiana. This herbaceous shrub is native to South America, Paraguay, and Brazil but can now be found growing wild in many other parts of the world. Stevia has been used for hundreds of years by the indigenous people of various countries like Brazil, Paraguay, and Japan and its popularity continues to grow as consumers become more aware of the benefits it provides. Today, it is widely available as a natural, zero-calorie sweetener in the form of Stevia powder, Stevia tablets, and Stevia drops.

Over the last year, the use of Stevia has increased immensely in many countries around the world. As food companies begin to realize its health benefits, it is predicted that this trend will continue for years to come. This has created an opportunity for many beverage companies to use stevia as an alternative to artificial sweeteners. Coca-Cola and Pepsi have both started to use Stevia in some of their products, including Vitamin Water and Gatorade. Currently, it is being used in a wide variety of products including candies, energy drinks, and dietary supplements due to its healthy properties.

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What is Stevia?

Stevia is a natural, zero calorie sweetener that is extracted from the leaves of the Stevia plant. While there are nearly 240 varieties of the stevia plant, the one that is used to make stevia-based sweeteners is called the Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni plant, sometimes referred to as sweet leaf.

What makes stevia sweeteners unique is that they are 200 to 350 times sweeter than sugar but have zero calories.  This very fact entitles stevia-based sweeteners to be called the healthiest sugar replacement options.

Stevia has a multitude of characteristics that qualify it as the best natural sweetener. Some of these characteristics are listed below:

  • 100% Natural Sweetener
  • Zero Calories
  • Zero Carbohydrates
  • Zero Glycemic Index
  • Vegan

This means that stevia can be incorporated into many recipes without increasing the number of carbohydrates. Studies have shown that it can help with blood pressure levels and even weight loss when combined with other lifestyle changes. For this reason, it has been embraced by the health conscious community as a healthy alternative to artificial sweeteners and sugar.

As more and more people are switching to a healthier lifestyle, stevia-based sweeteners are gaining popularity as a natural sweetener and a zero-calorie sugar alternative.

How is Stevia made?

The stevia plant is best known for the leaves more than the stevia flower. Despite being a relative of mint and basil, it contains no aromatic qualities. However, it does contain a chemical called stevioside which is at the peak of sweetness when the stevia leaves are used or harvested before the flowers bloom.

The main ingredient to make the natural sweetener stevia is the leaves of the stevia plant. They are the main source of all the sweetness. These leaves have to be dried and ground into a fine powder before they can be used as a sweetener. The powder contains steviol glycosides, which give it its sweetness. The stevia extract needs to be purified to remove any bitterness from the raw extract. The natural sweetener made of stevia that you get in the market and the one that you might grow at home tastes a little different.

How to use Stevia?

Unlike sugar, since Stevia has zero calories and does not promote tooth decay, it has found its way into many food products as a sweetener. Stevia is currently being used as a sweetener at the expense of sugar and artificial sweeteners such as aspartame & sucralose.

Today over 5,000 food and beverage products use stevia as an ingredient in more than 90 countries worldwide. Stevia sweeteners can be seen as an ingredient in products like sodas, juices, yogurt, baked goods, sauces, pickled foods, candy, gum, ice cream, sweets, and desserts.

Apart from being used in packaged foods, stevia is also available as an ingredient to naturally sweeten food and beverages prepared at home. Stevia as an at-home ingredient is available in multiple forms including sachets of stevia powder, packets of granulated sugar, stevia tablets/ stevia pellets, and stevia drops.

Stevia sweeteners can be used to replace sugar in your favorite foods and beverages. Some stevia brands have introduced stevia sweetened beverages such as tea and coffee premixes which have the right amount of sweetness and require no additional sweeteners.

Some ways to use stevia include:

  • In coffee or tea
  • In homemade lemonade and other beverages
  • Sprinkled on hot or cold cereal
  • In oatmeal
  • In shakes or smoothies
  • Sprinkled on unsweetened yogurt
  • In bread, cakes, and cookies
  • In pancakes, muffins, and pies
  • In jams and sauces
  • In desserts and sweets
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Since stevia is 200 to 350 times sweeter than regular sugar, it is essential to use it cautiously in other dishes. Many leading stevia brands have their own conversion charts to assure seamless sugar replacement by stevia sweeteners. These conversion ratios are dependent not only on the stevia brand, but also on the form of sweetener (powder, tablets, or liquid) that is to be used.  If you are just starting out with stevia, it can be really helpful to refer to these conversion charts to ensure that your favorite dishes have the desired amount of sweetness.

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