About Stevia • 02.27.10
Stevia is an herb that is naturally sweet even though it has no sugars or carbohydrates, and no calories. Its sweetness comes from special natural compounds called steviosides.
Although it is used often as a natural sweetener in Asia and Europe, and as a medicinal herb almost everywhere, it is not marketed for this use in the U.S. because of FDA policies. Although it has been found to be safe when used in reasonable quantities, there is valid suspicion that the companies marketing other non carbohydrate sweeteners with saccharine and aspartame put a lot of money into suppressing stevia.
Food and drink manufacturers however, are beginning to see that there is a great demand for more natural products. The Coca-Cola company in particular, launched Zero, which used steviosides and aspartame in combination, to make a better tasting diet cola. It would have been nice if they made one that only used stevia, but well, baby steps.
How to Use Stevia
Stevia is said to be about 200-300 times sweeter than sugar by weight, so a little bit goes a long way. To use it as a sweetener in your tea or other drinks, put about a tablespoon in one cup of hot water, and wait until the herb settles to the bottom.
One tablespoon of this concentration will usually be as sweet as a tablespoon of sugar. Take care because sometimes it will be sweeter, depending on how close to the peak season the stevia was harvested.
Another way to do the same is to use a French press. The screen in it will catch the particles of the herb if you prefer not to deal with them. It won’t hurt you to eat the herb though.
In cooking, stevia can also be used as a powder. There are stevia extract or stevioside powder packets that work about the same as other low calorie sweeteners, but to get the most benefits, it’s best to use stevia herb powder. This way you get all of the ingredients that are naturally in the plant, which is better for you.
A teaspoon of stevia herb powder is as good as a half cup or more of sugar as far as sweetness. The only problem is that it has no sugar or other carbohydrates, so it will not help with browning. It should also not be used as a sugar substitute in canning. However, it can be used as a sugar booster to reduce the amount of sugar you will need in a recipe.
You can cut the amount of sugar in most cake recipes by half or more, and use the absolute minimum needed for preservation in canning. The difference as far as taste can be made up by stevia.
When we post recipes on this site, we’ll include details for preparation.