The Sweetness That is Derived from Leaves
Stevia rebaudiana, or Stevia, is a plant whose leaf contains a sweet substance that when extracted, can be 200-350 times sweeter than sugar. Thus, stevia extract is very potent, and just a relatively small amount will produce the desired sweetness. The sweet extracts of stevia, which are derived from the leaves of the stevia plant, are steviol glycosides. Of the steviol glycosides, rebaudioside A and stevioside are the most commonly isolated for the use as a sweetener.
Stevia Has a Long History of Use
The Stevia rebaudiana plant has been used by the Guaraní people of South America for more than 1500 years. In Brazil and Paraguay, stevia plant leaves have been used for centuries to sweeten tea and medicine. The plants’s name “stevia” is derived from the name of a Spanish botanist, Petrus Jacobus Stevus (1500-1556), who first researched the plant.
Stevia is Awesome
I should add that stevia is my personal favourite sweetener because it tastes so interesting and sweet at the same time. I have used stevia as the sweetener in tea, hot chocolate, applesauce, and coconut milk ice cream. It works wonderfully.
Although stevia is very sweet, with just a little touch of bitter, it does not taste like sugar at all. In addition, it cannot be digested in the digestive tract, so when it enters the bloodstream, it is processed by the liver into steviol glucuronide. It is then released in the urine. Because your body cannot metabolize stevia, it does not provide any calories to your diet, in contrast to honey, sugar, maple and corn syrup and other syrups.
Stevia does not have a significant effect on blood sugar levels, so it is good for diabetics and anyone wanting to not use sugar for whatever reason (and there are a lot of good reasons to not use sugar!).
Stevia Can Be Sustainably Grown
Stevia can be grown on a relatively small area of land, and requires a lot of daylight hours, sufficient amounts of water, and warm temperatures. It is now cultivated commercially in Asia, Latin America, Mexico, and parts of the United States and Europe. The leaves of the stevia plant are harvested, then dried. To extract the sweetness, the leaves are steeped in water, and the liquid is then filtered and purified to yield a crystallized stevia extract. China is currently the largest exporter of stevioside products.
Stevia Can Be Found in Liquid or Powder Form
At your grocery store, you can find stevia in liquid form, which comes in a convenient dropper dispenser. This is my favourite way to use stevia because it dissolves easily into liquids and batters. You can also find stevia in a granulated sweetener product, as a powder, or even as a tablet.