Japan uses stevia in all types of commercially available foods and drinks, including baked goods, cereals, and ice cream.
No ill effects have been reported during this long history of stevia use, and numerous studies show no health problems related to human consumption.
But how do you use it?
It sounds too good to be true: a super sweet herbal extract with no calories. Stevia rebaudiana, also known as sweet leaf, honey leaf, or sweet herb, is all this and more. Stevia is a South American plant packed with super-sweet glycoside molecules, mainly stevioside and rebaudioside. Glycosides are common in plants, but those in stevia are unique for their incredible sweetness, 200-300 times sweeter than cane sugar. The whole leaf is up to 15 times sweeter than cane sugar. Can something so sweet be good for you? You bet! Stevia is calorie free and does not cause swings in blood sugar levels, making it safe for people with diabetes and hypoglycemia. Stevia also inhibits the bacteria that cause plaque and tooth decay. No wonder stevia is used in mouthwash and toothpastes, adding a pleasant flavor. Whether you are looking to cut back on sugar, lose weight, or control blood sugar, stevia can make it easier naturally.
People have consumed stevia for centuries where it grows wild in subtropical South America. Having banned certain artificial sweeteners due to health concerns, Japan started using stevia glycoside extracts in the 1970’s. To this day, Japan uses stevia in all types of commercially available foods and drinks, including baked goods, cereals, and ice cream. No ill effects have been reported during this long history of stevia use, and numerous studies show no health problems related to human consumption. Stevia use has spread to many countries around the world. Production and consumption is especially strong in Southeast Asia. In the United States, stevia is not yet allowed in commercially available food products, but is sold as a dietary supplement.
This all sounds great, but how can we actually use stevia in our favorite foods and drinks? Being so much sweeter than sugar, it’s obvious you can’t just substitute stevia for sugar straight up. That’s why I wrote a recipe book, “Stevia Sweet Recipes: Sugar-Free – Naturally!” with 168 Goettemoeller family recipes for all types of foods, including drinks, pies, cookies, cakes, puddings, jellies, jams, salads, sauces, frozen desserts and main courses. This book delivers the very best results from hundreds of trials using whole, healthy ingredients. These recipes helped our family practically eliminate sugar and other high calorie sweeteners from our diet. I’ve found stevia helps me deal with cravings for sugar. I’m satisfied by a stevia sweet treat in place of the sugary kind.
What issues come up developing stevia recipes? Unlike aspartame, stevia is heat-stable. With a good recipe, it works in most foods. Dry stevia products also have a long shelf life at room temperature. Use at the table and in beverages is simple. Just add a little at a time until the taste is right. It takes persistence, however, to adapt complex recipes for stevia. Because of its astounding sweetness, very little stevia is required. Other ingredients must supply bulk normally provided by sugar or other sweeteners. Sometimes bulk can be supplied by increasing or adding other ingredients like flour or applesauce. In addition, the small amount of stevia must be distributed evenly throughout the other ingredients. This usually means adding stevia to dry or liquid ingredients before combining the two.
Another challenge is the taste of stevia itself, especially with Green Stevia Powder. Ingredients must be selected and adjusted to interact harmoniously with the stevia. Green Stevia Powder simply does not work with some foods. Stevia Extract Powder works with a wide variety of foods and acts as a flavor enhancer in some cases. A few stevia dishes taste better the next day. Time seems to improve the flavor. Those recipes are noted in “Stevia Sweet Recipes.”
Fresh stevia leaves are sweet right off the plant. Whole leaves, fresh or dried, are great for making tea alone or with other herbs. Stevia/mint tea is a favorite of mine. Various Liquid Stevia Extracts are also available. We’ll take a closer look at some stevia products.
Stevia Extract Powder
Pure Stevia Extract Powder is the best choice for most recipes. Most of the recipes in “Stevia Sweet Recipes” can be made with Stevia Extract Powder. This white powder is an extract of the sweet glycosides in the stevia plant. Because of their unique structure, these particular glycosides don’t contribute calories to the diet. The main glycoside is stevioside. Stevia Extract Powder usually contains 85-95% glycosides. The percentage should be listed on the label. Most labels use the term “stevioside” rather than “glycoside.” For use in our recipes, all the brands we tried worked fine, but it must be a pure stevia extract, with no maltodextrin, inulin, or other fillers. Check the label carefully. It isn’t always obvious that a product contains fillers. An ounce usually costs at least $7.50, but lasts a long time. If a product goes for much less than $7.50 per ounce, it likely contains fillers. Products with inulin or FOS, often sold in packets, are fine for sweetening drinks or cereal to taste. Pure Stevia Extract Powder, though, is a better buy in terms of sweetening power for your money. Fillers also introduce some carbohydrate content. Our recipes use the pure extract with no fillers.
Conversion rate: Stevia Extract Powder is 200 to 300 times sweeter than cane sugar. One teaspoon has roughly the same sweetening power as one cup granulated cane sugar, though the conversion rate varies depending on the recipe.
Green Stevia Powder
Dried stevia leaves are finely ground and sifted to produce Green Stevia Powder. Many recipes in “Stevia Sweet Recipes” list it as an option. It works particularly well in beverages or combined with pineapple, kiwi, or in some pies. Green Stevia Powder contains the full range of plant nutrients. It presents some additional challenges, however, with its green color and licorice-like aftertaste. Make your own Green Stevia Powder by grinding dried leaves in a blender or coffee grinder with metal blades. Even homegrown stevia can be used this way! I’ll have details on growing and using your own stevia in the February issue.
Conversion rate: Three to four teaspoons of Green Stevia Powder replaces one cup of cane sugar. Here again, the conversion rate varies according to the recipe.
Liquid Stevia Extract
Liquid extract is convenient for sweetening beverages to taste. Most have an alcohol base to extend shelf life, but a new alcohol-free liquid extract is available at health food stores. It uses vegetable glycerine instead of alcohol. Make your own water extract by stirring Stevia Extract Powder into water. Water extracts have a limited shelf life and should be stored in the refrigerator.
What’s the easiest way to get started with the stevia sweet life? Try some Stevia Extract Powder. It’s the most versatile stevia product and works in the widest variety of recipes. A pinch added to drinks or cereal sweetens without adding calories. Tea drinkers can use whole stevia leaves in a tea ball or strainer, alone or with other herbs. You might even try green stevia powder and gain the benefit of plant nutrients such as chromium, known to nourish the pancreas.
Ask for stevia at your natural food store or the health food section of your grocery store. Several online stores carry stevia as well. You’ll find links at my web site, www.stevia.homestead.com. If you have a green thumb, check back here next month and learn how to grow your own stevia!
Ask for a copy of “Stevia Sweet Recipes: Sugar-Free – Naturally!” at your local natural food store or call the publisher, Vital Health Publishing, at (877) VIT-BOOK. The book is available on the web and amazon as well. Visit Jeff’s stevia web site, www.stevia.homestead.com, to find more sample recipes and information or email questions.