Glossary

Stevia leaves and stevia powder

Stevia

Stevia is a South American wilderness herb with leaves that contain an ingredient of exceptional sweetness. Weight for weight, the sweetening compound in stevia is about 150 times sweeter than sugar but it has zero calories and no bitterness or unpleasant aftertaste.

Although long known, stevia only became commercially interesting in the 1970s and 80s, when such artificial sweeteners as cyclamates and saccharines became unpopular.

After initial worries that it might present dietary danger, stevia-based sweeteners have now been approved in most countries and its benefits are slowly being realised and utilised by those with diabetes, those wishing to reduce their calorie intake to lose weight and as part of children’s diets, so they don't become overweight.

Stevia is increasingly being used as a replacement for sugar in commercial products, particularly in some of the world’s best-known fizzy soft drinks. Japan has particularly taken to it and it’s said that 40% of sweetening in Japan is stevia-based.

Availability

Powdered stevia leaves are available in specialty shops and widely sold online. Stevia extract is more usually mixed with carriers such as coconut oil or aloe syrup.

Choose the best

It’s probably a good idea first to buy a product guaranteed to have no additives and to buy in small quantities. There’s no doubt that stevia will sweeten your life without adding calories, but only judicious research will tell you whether the higher priced products are the best.

Store it

Dry and cool.

Cook it

Stevia powder seems best appreciated as a substitute for sugar in hot and cold drinks but it can be used to replace sugar in all kinds of food. But you will lose the smooth, beguiling mouthfeel of sugar in sauces, custards and creams and really miss the luxurious texture sugar gives to baking. Search for published recipes that have gathered good comments.

Alternatives

Try xylitol or agave syrup.