I will fully admit to having a sweet tooth … especially anything containing that all-important member of the four major food groups: chocolate. However, I do feel a wee bit guilty for my over-consumption of sugar, which I know is bad for me.
There’s a natural sweetener available to everyone: Stevia. Stevia rebaudiana was used as a sweetener in South America for centuries prior to its ‘discovery’ in the West in 1887. Because it is ‘natural’ and calorie-free, it’s great not only for dieters but diabetics. (It doesn’t appear to increase blood glucose levels like sugar does.)
Here in the US, our Food & Drug Administration finally figured out Stevia was OK in December 2008 and it’s now been approved as a food additive. Manufacturers jumped on the bandwagon and you’ll find it in quite a few products – even soda. It’s also available as a powdered food supplement in health food stores. If you buy it this way, be sure to get the green or brown Stevia – the white has been processed just like white sugar. I haven’t used the liquid products so I’d advise you to research prior to purchasing these. I have no idea if they’re simply extracts or processed in another fashion.
Stevia can be 300 times sweeter than sugar. Only a tiny pinch of the dried leaves is necessary to sweeten a cup of tea. One fresh leaf is all it takes for a glass of iced tea. I know it’s used to sweeten puddings, sauces and the like but apart from the processed stuff (which seems to be a combination of Stevia and white sugar), I haven’t seen any recipes using it as a sugar substitute in baking. You’ll need to experiment to see just how little to use when cooking with Stevia. Like any good cook, add a little and taste before adding more. Too much Stevia causes a bitter taste.
If you live in a warmer climate (Zone 9 and up), Stevia will grow in your garden (it may die back in winter). However, it grows nicely in a pot here at my zone 7 house, as long as I remember to bring it in over the winter. It likes light, loamy soil and full sun so I’ve used a decent potting soil and it gets about 8 hours of sun each day in the summer from its spot on the deck. Everything I’ve read says it’s a nice little compact plant, growing 18 to 30 inches tall, but if I don’t pinch mine back, it gets really leggy. Pinching it back is no problem – I use a leaf or two to sweeten my afternoon tea when I don’t want the extra flavor organic honey adds (or if I’ve run out of honey – a frequent occurrence).
Although there are no ‘known’ uses for Stevia in a magical sense, I see no reason not to use it as a sugar substitute here, too.
Try it! You may just like it!