What is Stevia

Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni) is a safe, natural, zero-calorie and carbohydrate free sweetener. It has none of the negative side effects associated with sugar consumption, such as obesity, type II diabetes and tooth decay; nor does it raise blood sugar. Stevia is therefore considered the perfect substitute for calorie rich refined sugar and potentially carcinogenic artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, saccharin, sucralose, and acesulfame K. It thus provides a good alternative to those counting their calories and for diabetics trying to avoid blood sugar spikes. As stevia is heat resistant it can, apart from being used as an additive or table top sweetener, be used for baking and cooking. Japan is the first (1970) and largest developed economy to embrace stevia as a sweetener; stevia currently dominates over 50% of Japan’s commercial sweetener market. Stevia has recently been approved in the EU (2011) and USA (2008) as a food additive and dietary supplement.

  • 1. What is Stevia?
  • 2. Stevia as a sweetener?
  • 3. Is Stevia safe?
  • 4. How sweet is Stevia?
  • 5. Where is Stevia being consumed and cultivated?
  • 6. Stevia in Europe
  • 7. How is Stevia being used?
  • 8. How much Stevia is used around the world?
  • 9. Key benefits of Stevia
  • 10. Can Stevia replace sugar in the diet?
  • 11. Stevia for Diabetics
  • 12. Which large cooperation are active with Stevia?
Stevia Rebaudiana is an herb in the Chrysanthemum family which grows in the wild as a small shrub in parts of Paraguay and Brazil. Currently there are between 240 and 300 varieties. Stevia rebaudiana is made up of several active components. In the leaves, Stevioside and Rebaudioside A are the two dominant components which account for its incredible sweetness. When steviosides make up more than half of the total glycosides the stevia’s taste is considered traditional, meaning it has a ‘liquorice’ after-taste. When Rebaudioside A makes up more than half of total glycosides, the taste is considered ‘improved’ as the after-taste is reduced, according to the European Stevia Association (EUSTAS). 
In attempt to reduce calorie intake, many artificial and synthetic sweeteners have been introduced into the sweetener market, many of which are increasingly suffering from bad press. All-natural stevia sweeteners are expected to be a major contributor to the worldwide trend toward a healthier lifestyle. 
Stevia (raw) is an all-natural herbal product with has been used for centuries by native Indians in Paraguay. It has been thoroughly tested in dozens of tests around the world and found to be completely non-toxic. It has also been consumed safely in massive quantities (thousands of tonnes annually) for the past twenty years. 
The crude Stevia leaves and herbal powder (green) are reported to be 10-15 times sweeter than sucroce/table sugar. The refined extracts of Stevia called steviosides (a white powder, 85-95% Steviosides), is claimed to be 200-300 times sweeter than table sugar. The herbal powder is normally very sweet while the refined extract is incredibly sweet and needs to be diluted to be properly used. Most products on the market at present have a slight bitter aftertaste, also characteristic of liquorice, however several manufactures now claim to have removed this bitter aftertaste. 
Many countries have used Stevia for centuries. Major consuming countries include Brazil, Paraguay and Japan. Japan is probably the largest Western economy which has been using Steviol Glycosides extensively as a sweetener since the 1970s. Stevia is predominately cultivated in Paraguay, Brazil, Japan and China. Stevia is also being cultivated in Southern Ontario and Mexico. More recently it has been successfully grown in California, Kenya, Spain and the South of England.
In Europe Steviol Glycosides have been permitted as a food additive (E 960) as of the 2nd of December 2011. Please refer to the official EU journal for further details on this. 
Stevia is not only used as a table top sweetener but can also already be found in hundreds of food and beverage products from around the world including teas, soft drinks, juices, yogurt, soymilk, baked goods, cereal, salad dressings, confections. 
Exact numbers are unavailable at this time, however, as an indication, Japanese consumers used the equivalent of 700 metric tonnes of Stevia leaves in 1987 alone. This number does not include other major consuming territories such as South America (particularly Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil), South Korea, China and the whole of the Pacific Rim. Europe is also a huge upcoming market, along with Australia and North America. 
A key benefit or stevia is that it provides sweetness without elevating blood glucose levels as white sugar does. In addition to this, research has shown that it can actively lower blood sugars. Scientists found that taking 1000 mg daily or stevioside reduced blood sugar levels after meals by up to 18 per cent in people with type 2 diabetes. Further experts at Mahidol University in Thailand found other benefits. Not only does stevia seem to not affect or even lower blood sugar levels in diabetic patients, additional, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumour, anti-diarrheal, diuretic, and immunomodulatory properties. 
Yes as refined sugar is virtually devoid of nutritional benefits and, at best, represents empty calories. At worst, it has been implicated in numerous degenerative diseases. Stevia is many times sweeter than sugar and has none of sugar’s unhealthy drawbacks. Besides, sugars come in many natural sources, such as fruits.  
Stevia is both carb- and calorie-free. This is beneficial to both dieters and diabetics looking to cut their carb intake, as it will not have a significant effect on your blood glucose levels.  
Coca-Cola, Pepsi Co, Danone and Merisant currently use stevia glycoside extract in 25 of their products. Candarel and Monsanto are deploying activities within Europe. Many other companies already use or are seriously considering using stevia to sweeten some of their products. There are also initiatives for a synthetic stevia extract. 

Here also a very insightful infographic kindly contributed by the Global Stevia Institute.

GSI Stevia History - An Infographic from Global Stevia Institute

Embedded from Global Stevia Institute