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Stevia is a bush native to South America that has been used for centuries by the natives of Paraguay, where it’s grown primarily as a sweetener and for medicinal uses. The stevia leaf is usually a component of Paraguayan teas, including the widely popular beverage yerba mate.
Stevia is 200 to 300 times sweeter than sugar but has none of the calories, and it can be used in many of the same ways you use sugar.
Like maple syrup, honey or molasses, Stevia has its own unique flavor, which can affect the taste of some foods and beverages.
Not only is Stevia useful as a sweetener, it also has many health benefits as well.
Rather than raise blood sugar like most other natural sweeteners, stevia actually lowers it. Research from the Journal of Phytomedicine shows that stevia helps control blood glucose and promotes insulin creation. Results of the study (which was performed on type 2 diabetic rats) led the researchers at the time to conclude that the plant extract stevioside may potentially be used as a new anti-diabetic medication for type 2 diabetes.
A double-blind placebo-controlled study published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology showed that stevia lowers blood pressure. The study was performed on 106 Chinese subjects with high blood pressure.
Another difference between stevia and sugar is that stevia does not cause tooth decay. A study from the Department of Pediatric Dentistry at the University of Illinois showed that neither of stevia’s primary components, stevioside or rebaudioside, causes cavities. Another study by Portuguese researchers showed that stevia kills the bacteria Streptococcus mutans, which is a prime factor in the creation of dental plaque. But don’t put down your toothbrush just yet—there are many other causes of plaque and cavities.
Is Stevia the Sweetener for You?
In recent years, stevia has been steadily gaining market share in the United States and internationally, and it’s quickly becoming a staple in many American kitchens. Stevia may take some getting used to, but if you give this sweet little leaf a try, you just might find you like it.
Food editor’s note: Currently, stevia is not approved by the FDA as a tabletop sweetener because of safety concerns when high doses are used. The FDA has also rejected stevia for use as a food additive, and it has not been given GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status since according to the FDA there is no acceptable daily intake. Specific toxicological information may never be available since stevia is a plant that is widely available so it is difficult to patent with exclusive financial benefits to the sponsors of the costly studies. Bottom line: Stevia does not seem to be a concern when used in small amounts, but proceed with caution.For more information, go to www.cspinet.org/foodsafety/additives_stevia.html.
‘Sensational Stevia Desserts: 82 Low-Carb Recipes’ (Healthy Lifestyle Publishing 2005) by Lisa Jobs features more than 80 low-carb, no-sugar-added dessert recipes using stevia. Some of the recipes are Strawberry Mousse, Peanut Butter Pie, Chocolate Chip Cookies, Truffles, Almond Pound Cake and Italian Cannoli.
‘Sensational Stevia Desserts’ can be ordered from the Web site at www.steviadessert.com or by calling (888) 878-3842. It is also available at Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com, Bordersstores.com and at many health food stores.
Using Stevia in Recipes
Cooking with stevia is much like any other cooking endeavor, requiring a balance between following recipes and improvisation. For this article, I will not be offering specific recipes so much as helpful tips on how you can use stevia in your own recipes.
There are a few things you should keep in mind when cooking with stevia. Most important, stevia is sold in many different forms: white powder, green powder, liquid drops, powdered leaf and more. None of the various forms are standardized. Many product labels offer guidelines for how to replace sugar with stevia. In this article, I refer to liquid stevia drops, which is what I use for cooking. Stevia drops are convenient, easily available and mix very easily into liquids.
Because stevia is more than 200 times sweeter than sugar, a little bit goes a long way. If you taste a little pure stevia on its own, you’ll notice it’s very sweet at first, but it quickly turns bitter before slowly fading away.
Stevia works well in many beverages, especially stevia in liquid form. Be aware that some of the powders don’t mix so easily into drinks. You may have to stir vigorously to be sure it dissolves completely. Stevia makes excellent smoothies and energy drinks, and it can sweeten whey protein supplements without using artificial sweeteners. For a comforting hot beverage, heat some milk and stir in a few drops of stevia and a drop or two of real vanilla extract. Imitation vanilla extract often contains some sugar, and the true vanilla tastes best, anyway.
Cooking With Stevia
Stevia works well in marinades, sauces and brines, and best of all, it doesn’t degrade when heated. Stevia can certainly put the sweet in your sweet and sour, but remember, stevia has a flavor all its own, and it may not be suited to all recipes or palates. While you are getting accustomed to cooking with stevia, test it first by adding a little to a small amount of the food before committing yourself to the entire batch.
Baking With Stevia
Baking with stevia can be a bit tricky, because sugar provides more than just sweetness for baked goods. Sugar is also important to the texture in cakes and cookies, and it makes up a good deal of the food’s bulk. When using stevia as a sugar replacement in baking, your recipe will usually need some ingredient to make up the bulk of the missing sugar. Some ingredients that can be used are applesauce, yogurt and sour cream. You can also try using a denser whole-grain flour or adding some ground flax seeds.
If you are interested in baking with stevia, I’d recommend reading one of the many books on the subject. Look on any search engine or on Amazon.com for some of the available titles, or see what books are at your local library or bookstore.
Stevia and Cool Summer Drinks Go Hand in Hand
By Gerri French
Nothing beats a glass of lemonade or iced tea on a hot summer day, and using stevia to sweeten these cooling beverages is a wonderful way to begin your relationship with this sweet plant.
Liquid stevia dissolves easily in cold drinks. Powdered stevia takes just a little more stirring. Individual packets of stevia are convenient for sweetening drinks in restaurants and at work.
If you grow stevia, you can add a few leaves to the teapot when brewing your tea. Experiment to determine the quantity of stevia leaves needed to suit your taste.
Lemonade Iced Tea
8 ounces of fresh water
1 or 2 green tea bags
Juice of ½ lemon or lime
Stevia equivalent of 1 teaspoon of sugar (see package information)
1. Heat water to boiling. Pour into teapot over tea bags and steep until deep in color, about five minutes.
2. Let tea chill in the refrigerator.
3. Add lemon juice and stir in stevia to taste.
4. Pour tea into a tall glass over ice cubes.
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