How Sweet It Is!

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!


1 Comment

  • E Posted July 21, 2011 5:20 pm

    Re: baking with Stevia–it’s my understanding that Stevia lacks the crystalline structure sugar has that makes it melt and bind with other foods at higher temperatures. That’s probably why there aren’t many baking recipes that include it; sugar just does so much for the consistency of a lot of baked items.

    Hmm…I wonder if yeast will consume Stevia…haven’t checked on that. (Bread is one of my favorite things to bake.) Probably not, but it’s worth looking into, I think.

    Thanks for reminding me that I have some of this at home!

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