PODCAST. Did you know those yellow, burgundy and bronze mums that are so beautiful each fall have a cousin over in the sweetener aisle? It’s a sugar substitute called stevia. Jessica emailed and asked me to do a podcast on stevia so that’s our focus today.
100 to 300 times sweeter than sugar, stevia contains no carbohydrate or calories. It comes from a plant native to South America called Stevia rebaudiana, which is part of the sunflower family. The leaves are naturally sweet. Stevia’s the common name you hear for the plant extract. Today, stevia’s cultivated in many countries with China being a leading exporter. Stevia provides an important role in biodiversity due to how little land and water are required to grow it, allowing farmers to diversify their crops.
Try the recipe for Banana Pecan Muffins using a stevia blend.
So what’s in stevia? The leaves of the Stevia plant contain what’s called steviol glycosides, the compounds that are responsible for the intense and concentrated sweetness. All steviol glycosides share a common backbone. The differences between them are due to the number and arrangement of molecules attached to this backbone. The most common one that you’ve likely heard is a long name…rebaudioside A that most people just call Reb A for short. It was approved in 2008 by the Food and Drug Administration and put on their generally recognized as safe list.
Many other countries use stevia as a sweetener some of which include Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan, Mexico, Paraguay, Colombia, Brazil, and Argentina. And to be clear, in the US whole leaf stevia or crude stevia extracts are not approved for use in foods and beverages. Only high purity stevia leaf extracts like Reb A have been approved.