What is stevia?
The stevia plant is a small shrub that has been used as a sweetener for hundreds of years. Because of its highly-potent sweetness, stevia is used as a zero-calorie sweetener in a variety of foods and drinks. The best-tasting, purified parts of the stevia plant – stevia leaf extract – is a great alternative to sugar, and it does not raise blood glucose levels, a concern for people with diabetes. Stevia leaf extract is 200-350 times sweeter than sugar—which explains why you often see it combined with other ingredients that help evenly disperse sweetness in the form of a liquid, powder, tablet or granulated sweetener product (for instance, in Truvia® sweetener or Stevia in the Raw® sweetener and others). These stevia sweetener products can be found at your local grocery store here in the US.
Known botanically as “stevia rebaudiana Bertoni,” the plant is native to Paraguay, but also grows in other tropical and sub-tropical locations. Today the stevia plant is grown commercially in Asia, Latin America, Mexico, and some parts of the US and Europe where it flourishes under long hours of daylight, plenty of water and warmth. In modern use, the stevia plant leaves are harvested and processed primarily for use in stevia-based sweeteners.
Stevia Leaves are Harvested When a Bloom Appears
Stevia plants typically begin their life in a greenhouse. When the plant reaches three- to four-inches tall, it is transplanted to the field. When the small white flowers appear, the stevia plant is ready for harvest. After harvest, the leaves are dried. Sweetness is released from the stevia leaves by a process that involves steeping them in water, filtering and purifying, and drying, resulting in a crystalized stevia leaf extract.
Where does stevia grow best?
Stevia grows best under tropical conditions, where sun, water and heat are plentiful. The stevia plant is native to South America—Paraguay, in particular. While it can be grown in many climates, stevia is primarily grown in areas that are between 20 and 40 degrees north or south of the equator. At those latitudes, the plant generally gets the 12 hours of sunshine it prefers for the production of steviol glycosides—the sweet components—in the plant’s leaves. Stevia can be grown (and is grown) by individuals around the world, though it is difficult to duplicate the hours of sunshine and other conditions the plant prefers. Today, China grows much of the stevia used commercially around the world.
Can I grow my own stevia plant?
Stevia is primarily grown in areas that are between 20 and 40 degrees north or south of the equator. At those latitudes, the plant gets the 12 hours of sunshine it prefers for the production of steviol glycosides—the sweet components—in the plant’s leaves.
Commercial stevia plants typically start life in a greenhouse before being transplanted to a field. If you want to grow your own stevia plant, purchase a sapling locally or online. If growing in a container, give the plant a 12- or 14-inch container filled with a good potting mix. Position the plant in full sun and water the plant when the top inch of potting mix is dry to the touch. While it’s possible to grown your own stevia plant, homemade stevia sweeteners are not generally recognized as safe (GRAS) in accordance with US FDA requirements.
How many calories are in stevia?
Stevia leaf extract also has no calories due to the way your body metabolizes the sweetener—unlike sugar, stevia leaf extract quickly passes through your digestive tract and is eliminated without being broken down for calories. This can be a benefit for people trying to maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle.
Will stevia change the color in my food?
We love the way our baked goods brown along the top. That’s partly because of the way sugar in our recipes caramelizes when heated. Using sugar in recipes also produces a familiar texture, weight, and chewiness. Stevia leaf extract is different in that it does not brown in the same way – as a result, baked goods with stevia leaf extract may result in a lighter color.
Commercial manufacturers offer stevia-sweetened products designed for baking. These blends often contain stevia leaf extract along with some amount of sugar. The result is a blend that helps reduce calories while allowing the familiar look and taste of baked goods that use sugar as an ingredient.
How is the stevia plant grown?
Commercial stevia-growing operations are located around the world, but the majority of stevia production is in China.
Stevia plants are often grown to the point of a sapling (for speed and consistent sweetness) in a greenhouse and then transplanted to fields in the late spring. Early studies of the plant noted that transplanting in April or May allowed for two harvests (summer and autumn), which increased yields. 
Stevia fields are often cultivated by small scale farmers. Harvesting takes place just as blooms appear for maximum sweetness. The leaves are then dried and made into a purified stevia leaf extract. The food grade stevia leaf extract is then often sold and exported to manufacturers who use it as the primary sweetening ingredient in stevia-based sweeteners.
How sweet is stevia?
Because of the intense sweetness of stevia leaf extract, commercial manufacturers generally blend it with other ingredients (for instance, erythritol, dextrose or maltodextrin) to more evenly distribute and balance the sweetness. These blended products make stevia leaf extract very easy for people to use in foods, beverages, and cooking.
 Madan S, Ahmad S Sing GN, et al. Stevia rebaudiana (Bert.) Bertoni – A Review. Indian Journal of Natural Products and Resources, 2010, 1(3), 272
 Prakash I, DuBois GE, Clos JF, Wilkens KL, Fosdick LE. Development of rebiana, a natural, non-caloric sweetener. Food and Chemical Toxicology 46 (2008) S75
 Madan S, Ahmad S Sing GN, et al. Steveia rebaoudiana (Bert.) Bethoni – A Review. Indian Journal of Natural Products and Resources, 2010, 1(3), 267
Can I combine stevia with other sweeteners?
Several commercial manufacturers market stevia-sweetened products that contain other sweeteners (notably, sugar) for specific purposes, like baking. These combined sweeteners opt for a reduction in sugar versus elimination of sugar.
Other high-potency sweeteners (such as monk fruit) and bulk, zero-calorie sweeteners (like erythritol) are combined with stevia leaf extract in some stevia-based sweeteners to help evenly disperse the intense sweetness of stevia leaf extract and enhance taste.
Where can I buy stevia?
What types of stevia can I buy?
In North America, packets are commonly available in restaurants and for individual use in homes. These packets typically contain the sweetness equivalent of one or two teaspoons of sugar.
While packets are most common in North America, stevia tablets tend to be more popular in Europe. Stevia liquids tends to be more popular in South America.
While other forms for stevia – such as crude stevia – may be found at alternative food stores and online, crude stevia is not generally recognized as safe in accordance with US FDA requirements.
What is stevia rebaudiana?
What is stevia leaf extract?
Stevia leaf extract appears on ingredient labels in the US to indicate that the stevia ingredient is of commercial food grade, which is at least 95% pure. Crude stevia has many components (over 40 unique steviol glycosides, or sweet components) each with its own particular taste. The purifying processes that produce stevia leaf extract pull in great-tasting components from the stevia leaves—such as rebaudioside A—while leaving behind the components that interfere with the sweet taste.
Stevia leaf extract includes the best tasting part of the stevia leaf (versus all the parts found in a stevia leaf or crude stevia) to achieve a more balanced and consistent taste.
Stevia leaf extract is a highly purified form of the stevia plant. As such, it has gone through rigorous scientific and clinical testing to ensure it is safe for human consumption and for commercial use. Stevia leaf extract is GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) in accordance with US FDA requirements. Crude stevia, on the other hand, has not been approved by the US FDA and is not similarly generally recognized as safe. Stevia leaf extract has also approved by a variety of national food safety bodies and supported by organizations, such as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
 http://www.fda.gov/ucm/groups/fdagov-public/@fdagov-foods-gen/documents/document/ucm269137.pdf ]. Accessed 11/9/2016.
 http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/fdcc/?set=GRASNotices&id=555&sort=GRN_No&order=DESC&startrow=1&type=basic&search=STEVIA Accessed 9/12/2016.
 Fitch C, Keim KS. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: use of nutritive and nonnutritive sweeteners. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2012 May;112(5):739-58. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2012.03.009. Epub 2012 Apr 25.
Why is only a small amount of stevia leaf extract required in stevia-based sweeteners?
In most stevia-based sweeteners, a very small amount of stevia leaf extract is combined with other ingredients, like erythritol, maltodextrin or dextrose, to provide a look and feel similar to sugar. These ingredients help evenly disperse the intense sweetness of stevia leaf extract so the finished product can more easily be substituted for sugar.
Stevia vs Sugar: What is the conversion factor?
Many manufacturers formulate their stevia-based sweeteners to equal in sweetness a recognized quantity of sugar. A quick glance through the information provided by several stevia-based sweetener manufacturers shows 1 teaspoon of sugar may be the equivalent of anywhere from 1/8 teaspoon to ½ teaspoon of the requisite stevia-based sweetener. In baking blends (a mix of a zero-calorie stevia-based sweetener and sugar for better results in baked goods), 1 tablespoon sugar may be the equivalent of anywhere from 1 to 1.5 teaspoons of the requisite baking blend.
A quick search for “conversion chart” and the name of your preferred sweetener brand will quickly give you the conversion numbers you need for successful cooking, baking and everyday sweetening.
Here is conversion information for four popular stevia-based sweeteners:
- Stevia In The Raw®:
- Conversion chart: http://www.intheraw.com/using-itr/conversion-charts/
- Conversion chart: http://sweetleaf.com/stevia-recipes/stevia-conversion-chart/
- Conversion calculator: http://sweetleaf.com/stevia-conversion-calculator/
- Conversion charts: https://www.truvia.com/conversion-charts
- Conversion calculator: https://www.truvia.com/conversion-charts/conversion-calculator
- Whole Earth Nature Sweet®
- Conversion chart: http://www.wholeearthsweetener.com/conversion-chart/
Is stevia leaf extract processed?
Commercial producers of stevia-based sweeteners want their products to be as easy to use as possible. Because stevia leaf extract is 200-350 times sweeter than sugar, only a very small amount is needed in a stevia-based sweetener. Stevia leaf extract is typically blended with other ingredients like erythritol or dextrose to help balance out its intense sweetness, and to take on a more user-friendly format. Processing is required to produce stevia-based sweeteners in these resulting formats (powders, granules, tablets) that people like to use in foods and beverages.
Another reason stevia leaf extract is typically processed is to achieve the kind of purity demanded by food-grade ingredients. Many parts of the stevia rebaudiana Bertoni plant are sweet, but some components have bitter taste profiles. The best-tasting parts—such as rebaudioside A—make up the stevia leaf extract that is used by most commercial manufacturers.
What is the shelf life of stevia?
|Stevia In The Raw® Packets||Approximately four years from date of manufacture|
|Truvia® Original Sweetener||About three years from date of manufacture|
Each stevia-based sweetener brand provides recommended shelf life for their products, which could extend beyond three years from the date of manufacture. Contact the brand for more specific information.
What is the difference between granular stevia-based sweeteners vs. liquid stevia-based sweeteners?
Some forms lend themselves to bulk purchase and large-volume use, while others are meant more for people interested in single-use. The forms of stevia-based sweeteners will also vary based on local markets. For instance, European markets may prefer tablets to powder or granular forms, while South American markets may prefer a liquid form.
Why is fructose in some stevia-based sweeteners?
Fructose is an example of an ingredient some manufacturers use to enhance the taste of stevia-based sweeteners and help balance out the intense sweetness of stevia leaf extract. While dextrose or erythritol tend to be more commonly used ingredients in stevia-based sweeteners, fructose is another ingredient that can complement the flavor profile of high-potency sweeteners like stevia leaf extract.
All in all, some manufacturers of stevia-based sweeteners add ingredients to enhance the taste and look of their product. It’s really up to each individual—and each unique taste palate—to decide which stevia-based sweetener tastes better to them.