Q) What is stevia?
A) The stevia plant is a member of the chrysanthemum family and is native to South America. Today it is grown primarily in China. To extract the plant’s intense natural sweetness, stevia leaves are harvested and dried. The leaves are then steeped in hot water. The resulting liquid extract is filtered, purified, and dried, resulting in the crystalized stevia leaf extract that is the primary sweetening ingredient in a multitude of stevia-based sweeteners.
Q) What is the FDA’s position on stevia?
A) The FDA has not approved all stevia. In December 2008, the FDA issued a no-objection letter affirming and supporting the safety of stevia leaf extract, a well-characterized, high-purity ingredient derived from the best tasting parts of the stevia leaf.
Q) Where is stevia cultivated?
A) Today stevia plants are grown primarily in China, however the plant is still grown in other warm-climate locations around the world including South America. Some people grow their own.
Q) How has stevia been used in food applications?
A) Stevia-based sweeteners may be used in a variety of recipes, including smoothies and other beverages, sauces, pies, cheesecake and other desserts including bars, cookies and cake. It requires less of a stevia-based sweetener to achieve the same sweetness as sugar in your favorite recipes, and therefore does not create as much structure. A stevia-based sweetener is not a sugar-type carbohydrate, and therefore does not create the same browning as sugar in cooking and baking. A conversion chart should be used to help achieve the best taste results in cooking and baking.
Q) Is stevia safe?
A) The FDA has not approved all stevia. In December 2008, the FDA issued a no-objection letter affirming and supporting the safety of stevia leaf extract, a well-characterized, high-purity ingredient derived from the best tasting parts of the stevia leaf. Published safety studies have demonstrated that stevia leaf extract had no effects on general health, reproduction, fertility, growth, or development. Stevia leaf extract is generally recognized as safe for use in foods and beverages for use as a general purpose sweetener.
Q) How sweet is stevia?
A) Crude stevia leaf extract (dried leaf) is reported to be 10-15 times sweeter than table sugar, and refined stevia leaf extract over 200 times sweeter than sugar. Stevia leaf extract is the primary sweetening ingredient in many stevia-based sweeteners, and only a tiny amount is needed to deliver its clean sweet taste. A bulking agent such as erythritol or dextrose is often used to evenly disperse the intense sweetness of stevia leaf extract in a finished stevia-based sweetener.
Q) What are the benefits of stevia-based vs. artificial sweeteners and other sugar substitutes?
A) It really comes down to taste. Some people simply prefer the taste of stevia-based sweeteners when compared to artificial. Some prefer their natural origin, too.
Q) How many calories are in stevia?
A) Stevia leaf extract contains zero calories.
Q) Will stevia raise my blood sugar levels?
A) Studies conducted with stevia leaf extract in people with diabetes have shown that these ingredients have little to no effect on blood sugar.
Q) Can I use stevia if I am diabetic?
A) Stevia leaf extract has been studied in clinical trials with people with diabetes. These studies have shown that it is safe and appropriate for use by people with diabetes. Stevia leaf extract does not affect blood sugar or insulin. If you are concerned about diabetes, this should be addressed with a health care professional.
Q) Can I combine stevia with other sweeteners?
Q) Will stevia harm my teeth?
A) Stevia leaf extract has been shown in clinical studies to be tooth friendly and not cause tooth decay.
Q) How is stevia leaf extract made?
A) To extract the plant’s intense natural sweetness, stevia leaves are harvested and dried. The leaves are then steeped in hot water. The resulting liquid extract is filtered, purified, and dried, resulting in the crystalized stevia leaf extract that is the primary sweetening ingredient in a multitude of stevia-based sweeteners.
Q) What is the conversion factor for stevia-based sweeteners in terms of common table sugar?
A) View a stevia-sweetener conversion chart here. (link to stevia.com conversion chart)
Q) Will stevia change the color of my food?
A) Stevia-based sweeteners do not have the same browning capability and structure or bulking ability of sugar, and as a result, the color and texture may be different from the sugar version of the recipe.
Q) Can I use raw stevia in cooking, baking and to sweeten food and beverages?
A) Yes, but would be challenging/not recommended for the following reasons:
- Raw stevia leaves only contain about 1/10th the sweetness of purified stevia so you would need to add 10 times as much raw stevia leaf to get the same sweetness. In addition, raw stevia leaves still contain bitter off-flavors normally removed from purified stevia. The ground or intact leaves also dissolve poorly, or not at all, so beverages sweetened with raw stevia leaves are likely to form a sediment on the bottom of a glass.
- Raw stevia powder is up to 250 times sweeter than sugar so only very small amounts are needed to add sweetness. However, the small amounts are difficult to measure accurately with home cooking utensils so adding stevia directly or blending with sugar can lead to sweetening errors. A reduced sugar product like Truvia Baking Blend or Truvia Brown Sugar Blend ensures stevia is added to sugar and erythritol at known levels so that the products are easier to measure and more consistent in delivering the right amount of sweetness to a recipe.
- The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not permitted the use of whole-leaf stevia or crude stevia extracts because these substances have not been approved for use as a food additive. The use of stevia leaf and crude stevia extracts is not considered GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) by FDA and their import into the United States is not permitted for use as sweeteners.
Q) Can I make my own stevia leaf extract?
A) In theory it’s possible to get a stevia plant, collect and dry some leaves, and then extract the dried leaves with hot water similar to making tea. However, the water extract may not be very sweet and is likely to have bitter off-flavors which are normally removed during purification of commercially-available stevia leaf extracts.