What is Stevia?

Although Stevia has been around for centuries and has been extensively researched since the early 20th century, it’s only in the recent decades that Stevia has started to gain worldwide recognition.  Stevia’s rising popularity is partly due to the intrigue and opposing arguments surrounding it.  Countries and organisations have different views on the plant that’s supposed to replace sugar.  Is it a food additive or a dietary supplement?  Is it healthful or harmful?  Is it beneficial or unsafe?  Is it legal or restricted?  Many questions have bogged people’s minds.  Though scientific studies have been conducted to test the validity of Stevia, there are still contradicting thoughts and political controversies regarding its uses.

A Brief History of Stevia

Before we decide if Stevia extract is more advantageous than sugar or if sugar will always be better than a Stevia sweetener, let’s first understand its history and components to give us a clear picture of what it is and what it can do.

Stevia is a genus of 240 species of herbs and shrubs that grow abundantly from Central America to South America.  Stevia rebaudiana is a species known for its sweet leaves and used by Guarani Indians of Paraguay as a sweetener for hundreds of years.  The leaves are commonly used to enhance the taste of bitter beverages, medical potions, and food, but can also be eaten fresh to savour their natural sweetness.  The delicious, refreshing taste of this small green plant has been recorded since ancient times.

In the late 19th century, Dr. Moises Santiago Bertoni first learned of this unique plant and soon published his botanical “discovery”, only to find out later that his “new discovery” had long been discovered and used, although not named and analysed in the way he did.  It was in 1931 when two French chemists isolated the compounds that give the leaf its sweet taste.  They found that the leaves taste 30 times sweeter than sugar and the compounds are 250-300 times sweeter than sucrose.  Though they didn’t know yet what these compounds or glycosides (particularly steviosides) would be used for, the answer would arrive decades later.  During the 1970s, the Japanese discovered the usefulness of stevioside and began cultivating Stevia.  The refined Stevia extract became an ideal replacement for sugar and the purified extracts became Stevia sweeteners.  The Japanese produced the first commercial Stevia sweetener and ever since its introduction, the Japanese have been using Stevia in various food and beverage products and for table use as well.  They use Stevia sweetener for ice cream, bread, lollies, pickles, seafood, vegetables, soft drinks, and other food products.  The Japanese have been the major consumers and users of Stevia for several decades and account for 40% of the market.  Today, the use of Stevia has spread across other parts of the world, including countries in the Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America, and North America.

Stevia sweetener is perfect for both young and old

We’ve seen how Stevia has evolved into the sweetener that it is today.  With the aid of modern technology and more scientific research, we have also found numerous other health benefits.  Some of these are listed below:

*It contains zero calories; this non-caloric property makes it safe for people with diabetes and hypoglycaemia.

*It is non-toxic and rich in nutrients: calcium, phosphorous, sodium, magnesium, zinc, Vitamin A and C, and other 100+ phytonutrients.

*It reduces the craving for sweet, fatty foods or sugar so it’s very ideal for weight loss control and weight management.

*It has zero fat and zero carbohydrates, useful in fighting obesity.

*It is fluoride compatible and inhibits the development of plaque, so it helps prevent tooth decay and cavities.

*It does not increase blood sugar levels; instead, it stabilises the blood sugar levels in the body.

More information on Stevia extract

With Stevia’s growing popularity, many other concerns have been raised.  Perhaps, it’s because we only want the best, the safest, and the most beneficial.  And although it has existed and been in use since ancient times, it’s still somehow new to many of us today.

We’ve already traced Stevia’s origins so we know how natural it is.  We’ve also seen its uses and health benefits.  Below we have described other facts that you may want to consider about Stevia:

*Where it is planted and grown

- The land, location of the plantation, or region where it is cultivated affects the quality of Stevia leaves, thus the variations in the taste of Stevia sweeteners.

- It is mainly produced in Paraguay, Brazil, Japan, and China, and is now being grown in countries across the Pacific Rim, Canada (Southern Ontario), Mexico, California, and the southern areas of England.

*What it cannot do

- Unlike sugar, it does not caramelise, does not turn into a brown colour, and does not crystallise.

*Other factors affecting its flavour and aftertaste

- Aside from where it is planted, the other environmental factors that influence the quality of its sweetness include irrigation methods, sunlight, farming practices, processing and extracting methods, and storage conditions.

With everything we’ve learned about Stevia, we could say that it has a bright future ahead, especially with our health-conscious generation.  With Stevia, you still get to enjoy the sweet taste of sugar without the guilt and negative effects of sugar and artificial sweeteners.

To know more about Stevia and the range of Naturally Sweet Stevia and SweetLeaf Stevia products we offer, please visit our site.

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