Scientific Name: Stevia rebaudiana
Stevia is part of the daisy family and is an evergreen shrubby perennial with soft green, deeply veined leaves that contains large amounts (up to 5% in dry weight) of stevioside — a sweetener estimated to be 300 times as sweet as sugar.
It bears clusters of small white flowers in late summer, needs full sun and can grow up to more than 1m. Stevia is frost tender and dies back in cold areas — it will grow out again in spring. Stevia is a good container plant and will grow equally well in an indoor window garden.
Stevia grows naturally in north-eastern Paraguay near the Brazilian border. The Guarani Indians who lived there, called it kaa he-e that means 'sweet herb'. They used it to sweeten their bitter maté, added it to their medicinal potions and chewed the leaves to have a sweet taste in their mouthes that lasts a long time. The Spaniards documented it and by the 1800s the daily consumption of Stevia spread throughout Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina. The first Westerner to discover Stevia was an Italian botanist named Bertoni who learned about it from Indian guides in 1887. He named it after a Paraguayan chemist named Rebaudi, who became the first to extract Stevia's sweet constituent.
Harvest and parts used
Stevia may have a slight licorice aftertaste and some people will need to acquire a taste for it. Stevia can be used fresh, dried or in liquid form depending on what you are using it for.
Stevia's most natural, unrefined form is its fresh leaf. Dried Stevia leaves are sweeter than fresh leaves and it can be crushed or grounded into a green powder that is about 10 to 20 times sweeter than sugar. It can have a somewhat strong aftertaste — amounts must be adjusted to provide more or less a sweet taste. It can be added directly to tea or other dishes. Stevia powder can be converted into a syrup by dissolving 1 teaspoon of the powder into 2 cups of water. Bring the mixture to a gentle boil, lower the heat and simmer until it has been reduced to a slightly thick syrup. After the liquid cooled down, it can be poured into a small bottle and stored in the fridge.
What Stevia can do:
Stevia enhances the flavor and sweetness of lemon, tomato and most other fruit, gives a creamier texture to homemade ice cream and remains stable when combined with acidic food. High temperatures does not destroy Stevia's sweetening properties and it does not ferment or discolor. Stevia can be used in hot dishes and baked foods. When you bake with Stevia, it does not have an after taste but the green Stevia powder may slightly change the color of the food.
What Stevia can not do:
Food baked with Stevia does not rise as well as when baked with sugar. Stevia cannot provide texture, aid in the creaming and whipping process to give a soft spreading action to batter, caramelize to enhance browning or feed the fermentation of yeast and the retaining of moisture.
When baking with Stevia:
Remember that Stevia is 300 times sweeter than sugar. If you use too much Stevia, it will lead to over-sweetness and an aftertaste. Stevia's sweetness is more noticeable when used with neutral/mild flavored foods and is not as apparent in strong/bitter-tasting foods like coffee and cocoa. Always add Stevia (powdered or liquid form) to the liquid ingredients of a recipe. When adapting a recipe by substituting sugar with Stevia, you may need to slightly increase the amount of liquid (egg, water, milk). Keep in mind that too many eggs may toughen your end result. To enhance the flavor of cake (flour has a bitter nature) - you can add nuts and grated lemon peel. You can also partially substitute sugar with Stevia.
Stevia's Conversion rate:
|Sugar amount||Equivalent Powdered Stevia||Equivalent Stevia liquid|
|1 cup||1 Teaspoon||1 Teaspoon|
|1 Tablespoon||¼ Teaspoon||6 – 9 drops|
|1 Teaspoon||A pinch||2 – 4 drops|
Stevia and diabetes:
- Sugar can elevate blood sugar levels, is addictive in nature, leeches minerals from the body that causes weakness to the immune system and excess sugar is converted by the body into fat.
- Sugar can safely been substituted by Stevia without any side effects.
- Stevia and weight loss:
Stevia has no calories and can help to reduce caloric intake. Two teaspoons of sugar contains 50 calories.
- Stevia and tooth decay:
Certain bacteria in your mouth ferment various sugars and produce acids. These acids eat through the enamel of the tooth and causes decay spots or cavities. The 2 primary sweet constituents of Stevia (Stevioside and Rebaudioside A) are not fermentable and cariogenic (cavity causing).
Stevia and children:
- Sugar is implicated in obesity. Try and substitute sugar wherever possible (even partially), with Stevia to satisfy a child's sweet tooth. Stevia is safe for children.
- Stevia and High Blood Pressure:
Studies with Stevia found a reduction in blood pressure as well as an increased elimination of sodium (diuretic effect).
- Stevia's anti-aging potential:
Stevia promotes general good health and longevity.
Excess amounts of calorie-laden sugar contributes to high blood sugar, obesity and side effects like aging. Glucose has the ability to react with proteins like collagen and then produces glycation. That means that the glucose molecule attaches to some amino acids of a protein, making the protein less functional and that leads to disturbances in the cell. The initial phase of this attachment is called glycation. As we are getting older our blood sugar also increases and the amount of clycation of the proteins in our bodies increases in proportion to that. By avoiding high sugar and calorie consumption (by using Stevia), you can help your proteins stay healthier.
Recipe to treat the pancreas:
Prepare a dark concentrate with dried Stevia leaves:
Bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and add 15g of crushed/ground dried Stevia leaves. Cover the pot and boil for 3 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and allow the liquid to steep until cool. Strain the greenish-black liquid through a cheese cloth and refrigerate it in a container.
This concentrate has anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties and can be used topically on the skin to treat burns, wounds and athlete's foot.