Have you heard of a plant with a sweetening power that is 200 times stronger than sugar, but is calorie-free? It is stevia, a plant/shrub from Latin America with a very promising future.
A plant with sweetening powers
Stevia rebaudiana bertoni, better known as stevia, is a wild plant from the subtropical forest. Its average height is between 30 and 40 cm, and it owes its sugary flavor to its leaves, which contain 10% steviol glycosides, which are sugary compounds. Stevia belongs to the Asteraceae family. It is most often found on the border between Paraguay and Brazil.
Guaranis Indians who populated this area were the first to use this plant, which they called "ka'a he'ê" (sweet grass), as a medicinal plant and tea sweetener.
In 1888 the plant was taken outside Latin America by the Italian Dr. Bertoni, who gave it its name. Stevia is now grown in more than 20 countries throughout the world, including Brazil, China, Japan, Korea and Thailand.
Why is stevia sweet?
Four main steviol glycosides are responsible for the sweet taste of stevia leaves: stevioside, rebaudioside A, rebaudioside C and dulcoside A. These components are 40 to 300 times sweeter than the sucrose contained in sugar beet or sugar cane.
The properties of stevia extracts
Once they are refined, stevia leaf extracts produce a white powder that can be used as a food sweetener. These extracts contain a very powerful sweetener and do not contain any calories. As a result, products made with stevia meet consumer demand for products that are low in calories and do not contain added sugar.
Stevia approved by the world health organizations
A group of experts from the World Health Organization and the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) has confirmed that steviol glycosides are safe for use in human foods. They have also increased the recommended daily dose.
The EFSA (European Food Safety Authority), estimated in April 2010, that the consumption of steviol glycosides as a food sweetener was not harmful to human health.