Stevia: A miracle sweetener, and you can grow your own
By Laurel Dewey
April 23, 2004
Source: Post Indipendent
Dear Humorous Herbalist,
I hear that stevia is a sweetener that is supposed to be good for you. Is it too good to be true? How about the stuff it’s mixed with, including maltodextrin in the powder or some form of alcohol in the extracts? Are those okay or do they counteract the good in it? Why are the pure varieties more expensive? Are they that much better? Also, can a person grow their own? If so, where can one pick up the plant, and how would a person use the fresh leaves? Thanks.
— Sharon (via e-mail)
Stevia has been used for thousands of years as a natural, safe, non-addictive, virtually non-caloric sweetener. However, stevia does not have any sugar compounds — it simply tastes sweet and tricks the body and mind into believing one is eating sugar.
The Japanese, who banned the use of artificial sweeteners in the early 1970s, have been adding stevia to carbonated drinks, yogurt, preserves and pickles.
Stevia is sweet — up to 300 times sweeter than white sugar. Because of this, a little goes a very long way. One tablespoon of the finely powdered leaves is equal to one cup of white sugar. With stevia, use the “one to ten” rule. In other words, for every 10 teaspoons of sugar a recipe calls for, use one teaspoon of powdered stevia leaves.
When you consider the powdered extract, the ratio gets even slimmer. One-quarter teaspoon of powdered stevia extract is equal to one cup of sugar. Stevia can also be found in the alcohol-based extract you asked about which is a natural liquid concentrate of the plant.
But understand that the alcohol extract is exceptionally sweet. Two drops of the liquid extract equal one teaspoon of white sugar!
Stevia is high in magnesium, phosphorous, potassium and selenium. There is only one calorie for every 10 leaves, which is approximately 1/300th the caloric value of common table sugar. It is far less expensive than artificial sweeteners and a million times better for your body. (Nobody in their right mind should be ingesting artificial sweeteners due to their documented toxic side effects that can cause everything from hormonal irregularities to liver problems.)
People who have sugar imbalances — such as diabetes and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)—can safely benefit from stevia. Furthermore, Japanese researchers have discovered that stevia can reduce the need for insulin in diabetics.
Those on weight loss plans have found that stevia increases glucose tolerance as well as inhibits glucose absorption. If you are on a weight-loss diet and ingest stevia in moderate amounts, your desire for sweets and fatty foods can be vastly reduced.
To use stevia effectively, you have to remember the correct proportions in relation to sugar. One tablespoon of the leaf powder is equal to one cup of white sugar. One-quarter teaspoon of the powdered extract is equal to one cup of sugar.
The liquid alcohol extract — which is recommended at one or two drops maximum in coffee, water or tea — is far too strong to use in baked goods. For cakes, cookies, muffins and other baked goods, use the leaf powder.
You may need to experiment with the amount of stevia to discover the proper balance. Always factor under the recommended amount. Also, stevia has a tendency to turn white cakes green so don’t be perplexed when this happens.
Don’t drink a cup of stevia tea, by the way. Even hard-core “sugarholics” I know have become ill doing this.
As for maltodextrin, this additive functions as a bulking agent, texturizer, carrier, and crystallization inhibitor in products. It may or may not deter some of the herb’s effectiveness but it brings the cost of stevia powder down considerably.
My attitude is to always use the closest whole version of any plant, minus any additives, if possible.
And yes, you can grow stevia as an indoor plant. Check local nurseries and ask if they sell the plant. Stevia must be kept in a warm environment year-round and watered daily. Use the leaves fresh or dry them and grind into a powder. The fresh leaves are a sweet conversation piece.
I’ve grown stevia for two years and continually impress visitors with the taste of a single leaf. Give it a try!
E-mail your questions to The Humorous Herbalist at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The information in this column is not meant to take the place of your physician, nor is it intended to treat, diagnose or prescribe. Pregnant or nursing women should consult their doctor before using herbal therapy.