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Stevia - how sweet it is

Janet Hackert, regional nutrition and health education specialist, Harrison County, University of Missouri Extension


A not-so-new sweetener recently made its way into the U.S. market. Stevia has been sold in the U.S. for many years as a dietary supplement, but it was not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Now that the FDA has declared its active ingredient - rebaudioside A - as "generally accepted as safe", it is showing up in products like table-top sweetener packets. PureVia (from PepsiCo and a subsidiary of Merisant, Whole Earth Sweeteners) and Truvia (from Coca-Cola and Cargill), along with some flavored waters, and lower-calorie soda and fruit drinks now contain stevia.

Leaves from the stevia plant are steeped in water and then processed into crystalline form. These crystals create a sweet taste in the mouth, but are calorie free when eaten. As a sweetener, stevia’s extract is 250 to 300 times sweeter than sugar. This means only a very tiny amount is needed to add sweetness to a food or beverage.

As with any sweetener, there are challenges to using stevia in food products. Stevia is naturally bitter, but also tastes sweet after some delay. Although it is temperature and acid stable, the natural bitterness and intense sweetness are challenges the food industry will have to overcome. Consumers will need to taste stevia and decide for themselves how well they like it.


Another possible challenge is the price of stevia. Currently, it is expensive to use stevia or its active ingredient in foods. Products containing this naturally derived sweetener may be out of many consumers’ price range.


Like with other sugar substitutes, consumers need to watch for any warnings or concerns with stevia. It has been classified as safe, but it doesn’t hurt to try it out slowly to see what effect it has on individual taste and digestion.





Last update: Tuesday, May 05, 2009


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