Got a sweet tooth? You’re not alone. Many of us (myself included!) have a weakness for the sweet stuff. Here at Simple Organic, we’ve already looked at two options for healthier sweeteners: organic whole cane sugar and maple syrup/sugar. Today, we’ll take a look at a third option: stevia.
Stevia is a natural sweetener. It has been getting a lot of attention the past couple of years because it was recently approved by the FDA as a sugar-substitute in food and drink items. It’s popping up at mainstream groceries as an ingredient in sugar-substitutes such as PureVia (owned by Pepsi) and Truvia (owned by Coca-Cola). However, many people in natural foods circles have been using stevia as a sweet herb for years. I began using it in 2002, and it’s actually been around for ages. So what’s the big deal about stevia?
Benefits of Stevia
Stevia is an herb that is native to South America. The leaves of the stevia plant are intensely sweet, much sweeter than sugar. And the great news for those who are watching their health is that stevia contains zero calories, zero carbs, and has zero glycemic index! For someone like me, who has had to remove all sugars from their diet because of health issues, stevia sounds too good to be true! However, there are a few caveats.
Drawbacks of Stevia
• Some people don’t like the taste of stevia; it can have a slightly bitter or licorice-like aftertaste. Some flavors, such as citrus, will mask this aftertaste really well, but not every flavor is suited to this.
• It’s very hard to use in baked goods because you need so little of it to reach the same amount of sweetness that a larger amount of sugar would provide, so if your recipe needs the kind of “bulk” that sugar offers (as most baked goods do), then you can’t easily sub in stevia for sugar.
• In addition, I would not use stevia while pregnant, because its safety for babies in the womb hasn’t been conclusively determined. In addition, I don’t let my young daughter use it, for similar reasons.
• Finally, stevia is on the expensive side. That will likely change as it becomes more readily available, but for now it’s still produced in pretty small quantities. Of course, since it’s an herb, you could always grow your own! That’s something I intend to look into very soon.
Stevia in My Home
Personally, I use stevia primarily to sweeten beverages, such as a glass of iced tea, a cup of coffee, or homemade lemonade. However, there are many recipes out there that do use stevia in all sorts of baked goods and desserts. You can also purchase a stevia-sweetened baking blend that can be used as a substitute for sugar, but personally I have had a hard time with that; the stevia flavor is too strong for me and I don’t like the taste of the final product.
Stevia is available in many other forms, as well: liquid, powder, fiber-fortified powder, and even naturally flavored liquids such as vanilla, orange, and root beer. Add a few drops to carbonated water and you have a natural sugar-free soda! Yum! This is one of my favorite ways to use stevia. My favorite brands are Sweet Leaf and NuNaturals.
Photo by Michael Fludkov
Important Note: The two brands of sugar-substitutes that I mentioned above, PureVia and Truvia, contain stevia as one of their ingredients. The other ingredient is erythritol, a sugar alcohol in the same family as xylitol and maltitol. I just wanted you to be aware that these two sweeteners are not 100% stevia. Always read ingredients!
Where to Find Stevia
More and more mainstream groceries are carrying stevia; just look in the sugar section or ask your grocer. Health food stores definitely have it, and it’s also available online. You can find out everything you always wanted to know about stevia at stevia.com. They have recipes, articles, links to news stories, cooking tips, and more. Here is a yummy recipe for oatmeal apple muffins by Vicky Mosser, taken from Stevia Rebaudiana: Nature’s Sweet Secret by David Richard.
Oatmeal Apple Muffins
1 Cup Whole Wheat Flour
1 Cup Rolled Oats
1/2 tsp. Salt
3 tsp. Baking Powder
1/2 tsp. Nutmeg
2 tsp. Cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp. Stevia
3/4 Cup Milk
1/4 Cup Oil (or 1/4 Cup Applesauce)
1 Medium Apple Cored and Course Chopped
3/4 Cup Raisins
Preheat oven 400 degrees. Mix first seven ingredients thoroughly. In separate bowl mix remaining ingredients. Gradually mix dry ingredients into moist ingredients. Spoon into greased muffin tins. Bake 15 to 20 minutes.
Have you ever tried using stevia? Do you have tips or recipes that use stevia? Please share!