Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Stevia

It seemed like about a year ago there was a huge controversy over the Stevia plant, Stevia rebaudiana. It's an herb I've personally grown. You can buy the extract of it but only as a "dietary supplement," and marketed as something diabetics would use. Well not really marketed, more like what is this jar on the shelf? That's why you find it in the medicine isle and not next to the bags of sugar where a sweetener should be.

Today though I'm seeing it advertised in loads of products. All sorts of teas, health foods, and just about anything you can sweeten. And it's all along side sugar. For the longest time the sugar industry has been fighting this plant and I guess they finally lost. (Also considering Stevia is a sweetener that doesn't need to be grown in harsh conditions like Sugar Cain it raises some questions about certain historic events, but I don't think Stevia was known back then. It's only recently that people realized Banana trees grow on snow covered mountains in South America and Africa.)

Supposedly it's "300 times sweeter then sugar." In all honesty I don't understand this saying at all. The Stevia I grew didn't become sweet until late summer. The leaves can be eaten off the plant directly and have a unique plant taste to them. It's not like sugar but defiantly reacts to your tongue. It's almost a tickling sensation, as if someone took fibers of celery like a paint brush and were brushing your tongue lightly.

Saying it's 300 times sweeter then sugar I don't get though. It's sweet, and actually has a bitterness to it thanks to the plant taste. If you can get rid of that you might be in business. I attempted to make "Stevia Extract" but now looking back I think all I did was make Stevia Tea. Tasted awful.

Still it's a neat plant, not native but fun to try. It's also an annual where I live too, but it's very productive. I remember paying something like $20 for 7 seeds. When they finally flowered though they produced seeds like crazy. I expect the price has probably dropped since then.

2 comments:

  1. I use Sweetleaf sweetener stevia and love it! I even made chocolate chip cookies with it the other day. It has no bitter aftertaste that I can detect and is the only truly 100% natural stevia brand out there, as they use only pure water during extraction, whereas, others use chemicals, solvents, and alcohols during extraction, which can cause that bitter afertaste. Now some are adding masking agents to cover up the taste, making it even less natural. SweetLeaf was the first to receive GRAS (generally recognized as safe) as a sweetener by the FDA in March 2008. Other brands received the same distinction as much as 9 months later.

    I think it may be 300 times as sweet as sugar after it is extracted, or perhaps it has to do with the powder. I think it depends on the extracted form, or something (and perhaps the quality of the leaf?) I do know it can be hundreds of times sweeter than sugar, which is why only a small amount is needed in any food. It think it may different when just taking the leaves off the plant.

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  2. It might also have something to do with the proportion of the produce harvested from each plant. I was told once that it takes 3 canes of sugar cane to get one cube of sugar. As sweet as the leaves were I tasted raw I can easily see how one might obtain more from Stevia.

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