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A herbal sugar substitute with tradition
Steviol glycosides are extracted from the stevia plant in order to produce this popular household sweetener.
Stevia is known as a healthy alternative to artificial sweetener and conventional sugar. However, it is not as natural as we may think. Several glycosides in the stevia plant are responsible for its sweetness, including stevioside and rebaudioside A, which are commonly used to produce sugar substitutes. Although the sweetness of stevia has a natural origin, it is chemically produced. The stevia products that are found in Switzerland belong to those that do not contain 100% steviol glycosides either, but rather contain added (sweetening) substances. Nonetheless, stevia is a good alternative for diabetics.
|Sweetener||steviol glycosides from the leaves of the stevia rebaudiana plant (also known as candyleaf or sweetleaf)|
mixed with other sweet substances as a powder, tablets or in liquid form
steviol glycosides have no calories and are indigestible
|200 to 400 times sweeter than conventional sugar|
|cool and dry|
For hundreds of years, the population of South America has used ground stevia leaves as a sweetener – most notably in Paraguay and Brazil. It was not until 1887, that a Swiss botanist discovered the plant. During the Second World War, the plant was cultivated on this side of the Atlantic, however the production was stopped again after the war. In Switzerland the first stevia-sweetened energy drink was sold in 2008.
The EU only approved stevia for distribution as a sweetener (E960) in 2011. The plant or even its single leaves are not allowed to be sold as the amount of sweetening properties and other ingredients they contain vary from plant to plant.
The pure steviol glycosides have no calories, as we cannot absorb glycosides. The ingredients in stevia sweeteners may vary so it’s best to double check. Products that advertise stevia as an ingredient – be it soft drinks, yoghourt or jam – are likely to contain other sweeteners or even normal sugar, as it is not recommended to consume more than 4mg of stevia per 1kg of bodyweight daily.
The heat stability of stevia makes it ideal for warm refreshments like tea or coffee, but replacing traditional sugar with stevia for cooking or baking is more difficult, as you may lose some of the mass provided by traditional sugars. In Switzerland, there is a selection of stevia products specifically for baking. Usually they come in the form of small crystals that are similar to normal household sugar and contain a combination of erythritol and stevia. With a bigger mass, these sweeteners can replace sugar one to one.
The dosage recommendation on the back of each packet should be carefully observed for sweeteners with stevia, as the varying composition means that the level of sweetness provided may vary from sweetener to sweetener.
Stevia is suitable for diabetics as it contains zero calories and does not affect blood sugar levels. It’s also good for those who want to consume less conventional sugar. For some, the taste is difficult to get used to. It can have a slightly bitter liquorice-like flavour. Whether you use stevia as a sweetener or not comes down to your personal taste
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