Stevia is Back!
What is the new sweetener, Stevia, made of and is safe?
Stevia is an intense sweetener derived from stevia rebaudiana, a shrub-like plant indigenous to Paraguay. Its leaves, which look like a cross between basil and mint, contain naturally occurring, sweet-tasting substances that scientists call steviosides.
The leaves are up to 300 times sweeter than ordinary table sugar and have been used for centuries in Paraguayan cooking. However, it wasn’t until 1955 that scientists extracted steviosides and analysed their precise structure.
Japan was the first country outside South America to really embrace stevia. At first people simply used the leaves but from the early Seventies steviosides were extracted from the plant and put in a range of products. Other countries including Australia, New Zealand and Singapore followed.
Authorities in the United States gave the go-ahead for stevia to be used in food two years ago. It can now be found in tabletop sweeteners as well as many other products, including vitamin waters and sports drinks.
Ten days ago Europe also gave it the thumbs up and sweeteners such as Pure Via will arrive in UK stores on Friday. Pure Via consists of naturally sourced bulking agents and stevia, and contains two calories per teaspoon versus 16 calories in a teaspoon of sugar.
Unlike some intense sweeteners on the market, stevia is heat (and pH) stable. This means that it is suitable for cooking. For example, the tabletop version can be used in fruit scones, muffins and biscuits. It also works well in hot chocolate and chai teas.
Another advantage is its “natural feel”. The maker of Pure Via reports that half of its customers in France are new to the low-calorie sweetener market, implying that they are more comfortable with a plant-based intense sweetener than one that has been created in a lab.
It is likely that you will see the new sweetener in everything from “stevia-cubes” and sachets to fruit-flavoured fromage frais, custards, rice puddings, yoghurts and soft drinks. Although Pure Via will offer a wide range of products, Tate & Lyle is also entering the market.
Industry insiders are predicting products that you can put in your sugar bowl and blends of stevia and sugar that will offer an even more natural alternative to sugar. Watch this space.
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