About Stevia

General Information

Stevia is an all-natural sugar substitute which has been used in South America for centuries. Very recently Stevia Extracts of high purity have been approved in the European Union, United States and Australia for foodstuff purposes.

There have been more than 200 scientific studies conducted, all of which have confirmed the safety of Steviolglycosides. In Japan it has been one of the leading food sweeteners since the 1970s with a market share of 25-40%. This plant has also long been used by native South Americans for a variety of uses.

Components of the Stevia Plant

The most important components of the plant are the Stevia glycosides, which are 250 to 400 times sweeter than sugar. They also have the added benefit of being non-caloric. They are completely soluble in water making extraction of these components from the leaves easy and natural. The two most important glycosides are Stevioside and Rebaudioside-A and are also heat-resistant up to 200°C. It is these two components that are critical to creating commercial Stevia products.

The dried leaves of the Stevia plant are 15 to 30 times sweeter than that of cane sugar. Steviol Glycosides are what makes the sweet taste on the Stevia plant leaves. The two components that comprise the sweetness of the plant each have their own unique properties.

Stevioside is more heat resistant than Reb A, but has a slightly bitter aftertaste. Rebaudioside A or Reb A is sweeter and doesn’t have an aftertaste. There are also other glycosides present in Stevia preparations such as Rebaudioside C (R-C), Dulcoside A, Rubusoside, Steviolbioside and Rebaudioside B (R-B).

Reb C also contributes to a bitter aftertaste and for this reason, Stevia should have over 90% Reb-A to reduce this taste. Reports also state that certain acids will reduce lingering taste of Stevioside. They include citric acid, acetic acid, lactase acid, malic acid and tartaric acid.

Stevia is unique from all other sweeteners and is definitely a tasty alternative to sugar. This all-natural sweetener enhances the sweetness of foods and beverages without the addition of calories, making it an amazing plant to have in our midst. While it has been readily available in many countries for years, the recent push towards organic products is inspiring consumers to seek wider availability of Stevia products.


The Plant

The Stevia Plant

The plant from which Stevia is extracted is the Stevia Rebaudiana Bertoni plant and is native to South America. Found predominantly in the Amambay Mountain range and the Rio Monday Valley, which are in Northeastern Paraguay and Southern Brazil, this leafy green plant has been used for many hundreds of years as a sweetener and for other purposes. Part of the Chrysanthemum family, this plant is known by a variety of different names including yerba dulce, erva doce, honey leaf, sweet leaf, Ka’a-he’e, zuca-ka’a and Ka’a-yupe.

Stevia: Sweeter than Sugar

A member of genus Stevia, which has approximately 240 species in its family, the Stevia Rebaudiana Bertoni plant is the only one that is cultivated for use in creating the product that we know as Stevia. It is actually the leaves of the plant that are used for sweetening. There are two components, Stevioside and Rebaudioside (Reb A), in the leaves that are more than 200 times sweeter than sugar. It is these components which are extracted to make the different consumer products called Stevia, Stevioside and others.

Historically, Stevia has been used for centuries. The Spaniards discovered in the 1700s that Paraguay natives used what they referred to as Ka’a He’e as a sweetener, a snack and for medicinal purposes. People from neighboring countries also used the natural sweetener. In the late 1800s Moises S. Bertoni documented its use following his study of Paraguayan herbs. By 1908, the plant was actively being cultivated in its native region, as word of its usefulness spread.

Stevia's International Appeal

In 1931, two French chemists successfully extracted Stevioside and Rebaudioside from the plant leaves. This spawned the potential for growth and widespread use of Stevia. By the early 1970s the plant was being cultivated in Japan. This country is now the largest user of Stevia in the world, consuming 50 tons annually. Approximately 40% of Japan’s natural sweeteners have Stevia in them.

The Stevia plant is now also being grown commercially in various places in the world, including Asia, India, North America, South America and Europe. It only grows wild in its native habitat of Paraguay and Brazil. Cultivation of this plant, that offers amazing health benefits, requires sunlight, precipitation and great amounts of manual caretaking. The plant cannot survive at temperatures below freezing and great care should be taken if attempting to grow it in areas subject to frost.

Growing and Harvesting the Stevia Plant

Harvesting of the Stevia plant involves cutting the stems down to a height of 5 centimetres or 2 inches from the soil. This can be done as often as 3 to 4 times annually, making it a very prolific crop. Following harvest, the leaves are cleaned and then dried in the sun or with hot air dryers before being processed to remove the beneficial components used in creating the different forms of Stevia. Fresh Stevia leaves can also be boiled for use as a tea or a natural liquid sweetener.

The plant itself can be grown in almost any country around the world. However, the use of the Stevia extract from it is much more restricted. Many countries allow its use in different ways. Some countries use Stevia in a variety of food products, others allow its use only as a dietary supplement. No matter what the policies of different governments, cultivation of the Stevia plant continues to abound and the product’s popularity continues to grow.

Quick Facts

Some quick facts about the use of Stevia are:

  • Completely 100% natural
  • No calories
  • No carbohydrates
  • No Glycemic Index
  • Tastes like totally pure sugar
  • Safe for diabetics to consume

Here are some more facts about the sweetness and composition of Stevia:

  • It has been in use for hundreds of years.
  • When it is refined, it is 200-480 times sweeter than sugar made from sugar cane. The only aftertaste ever found with Stevia is if the concentration is too high.
  • Made from the leaves of the Stevia plant.
  • Dissolves easily in water.
  • It is very heat stable, to its 196-198 centigrade melting point.
  • Non toxic. 
  • It does not ferment, making it perfect for many different foods that are difficult to sterilize with heat.
  • Stevia is a healthy replacement for sugar, and especially all other artificial sweeteners.

While Stevia is popular for in home use, it is also ideal for commercial applications too:

  • Its anti-oxidant properties make it ideal for use in cosmetics, as well as in animal-feed and for soil supplementation.
  • The agricultural side of Stevia production is very efficient. One hectare of plants yields 1500 to 2000 kilograms (3300 to 4400 pounds) of dry Stevia plant leaves, which
  • ultimately is 100 to 200 kilograms (220 to 440) of Stevioside.
  • Saves as much as 60% in production, transportation and storage costs. Here's why. Its use is incredibly efficient, because of its stability in the presence of heat, light,
  • acid and alkali and the fact that it does not ferment. Because of these characteristics, using Stevia in food and beverage means those products have a much longer
  • shelf life, because they are bacteriostatic and retain their quality much longer than other products.
  • Stevia has a wide variety of uses. It is not only addition to food and beverages, but can also be used in cosmetics, toothpaste, cigarette flavoring, as a medicine medium, a sweetener complex and in various other products.


Stevia vs. other Sweeteners

Compare Stevia

Stevia is an all-natural sugar substitute, unlike many other sweeteners on the market which are artificial. It is made from the Stevia plant and is 200-400 times sweeter than sugar. It is pH stable, heat stable and is water-soluble. It contains no calories and no glycemic index.

Sugar on the other hand comes in different forms. It is also all natural. It contains 12 calories per teaspoon and has a Glycemic Index of 100. It will caramelize and then burn at a lower temperature than the melting point of Stevia. Sugar is readily available throughout the world. It causes cavities and is a leading cause of obesity and diabetes.

Aspartame is an artificial sweetener, which is 160 to 220 times sweeter than sugar. It is non-caloric and does not impact glycemic index.  It does not promote tooth decay. It is not heat stable. It is a dangerous substance for phenylketonurics. While it is approved for use in the United States and many other places in the world, there are concerns about its safety.

Saccharin is yet another artificial sweetener, which is 200 to 800 times sweeter than sugar. It is water-soluble,  has no calories and no glycemic index. It does not promote tooth decay. Saccharin contains a metallic aftertaste. It is banned in Canada, but is still widely available in the United States. 

Cyclamate is another artificial sweetener which is only about 30 times the sweetness of sugar. It has many of the positive effects of artificial sweeteners, such as no calories, no glycemic index and does not promote tooth decay. However, it has been banned for use in the United States and the United Kingdom due to health concerns. It is still being used today in Canada and some other parts of the world.

Splenda is also known as sucralose and is another artificial sweetener. It is 500-600 times sweeter than sugar. It is non-caloric and has no impact on glycemic index. It is simply table sugar which has been modified so it cannot be absorbed by the digestive system, Splenda does not promote tooth decay. Splenda is heat resistant and has a good taste. There are no health concerns with the use of Splenda. Its use in food is widely accepted in the United States and beyond.

There are a variety of sugar alcohols which exist for sweetening different products, They include erythritol, maltitol, lactitol, sorbitol, mannitol and xylitol. They have between 40 and 90% of the sweetness of sugar. They have no glycemic index, negligible calories and do not promote tooth decay. Most of them also cause a laxative effect, especially if consumption is high. They are all deemed GRAS approved by the FDA. Erythitol is usually considered the best sugar alcohol available.

Use the handy chart below to decide what the best sweetener is for your personal health or weight loss goals.

Stevia Table

Legal Situation

Stevia Extracts with a purity of more than 95% have been approved as a food ingredient in the European Union in December 2011. The Commission Regulation can be read under:

Aunit of the World Health Organization (WHO), the JEFCA, has allocated an ADI-VALUE, or an average daily intake recommendation for the use of Stevia. For many people, this is a confirmation of the fact that Stevia is safe for human consumption. This value is 4 mg per KG body weight Steviol equivalents, which roughly equals 11 mg per KG body weight Reb A. This means that an European with 60 kg body weight would be allowed to safely consume about 660 mg Reb A per day, which equals about 200 g sugar and 800 calories!

There are numerous big names in the food industry which have plans to get into the Stevia market, after it received official approval. It is already being highly recommended by doctors and health care practitioners, who approve of it. A concern that remains valid is the fact that there is no quality control system in place for Stevia products which are sold in the European marketplace.

Our Concerns

We, at SteSweet, are greatly concerned with this issue. For our own products, we are dedicated to only selling food, which is of food grade quality. To ensure this we send our products to a well-respected German food analysis lab for independent testing.

Stevia is already a success the world over. The United States has finally just given approval to Reb-A for use in food. Stevia was approved as a food in Australia a few months ago. Its popularity as a supplement has continued to grow unchecked over the years. In the Japanese marketplace it is the predominant sugar substitute. For over 30 years it has been legal there and has been marketed on the basis of its health benefits. It has more that 25% of the sweetener market in Japan. Stevia is also being grown, marketed and used in a variety of other countries around the world.

Some of the countries in which Stevia is approved for use include Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Columbia, Japan, China, Taiwan and Russia. In the United States and Canada it is approved only as a dietary supplement. In several countries such as Pakistan, Cambodia and Venezuela, its status is non-specified. In the Philippines, Hong Kong and Mexico, it is not approved.


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