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Sugar and spice and everything nice. That’s what stevia seems made of. Stevia isn’t the name of a little girl. It’s as simple and potent a sweetener as nature ever created.

The leaves come from a bushy green plant, the same family as asters and chrysanthemums. It is native to South America but is now grown in many countries. It is available here mainly in health food stores. In the USA , the Food and Drug Administration, regulates it as a food additive. In Canada, unprocessed stevia is permitted for sale. Processed stevia, while not banned, has not received federal approval. A spokesman for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said "it hasn't gone through the formal process."

While not commonly used in Canada, stevia is a popular sweetener. It is grown in many countries. In Japan food companies including Coca Cola, Sunkist and Beatrice Foods use stevia or products made from stevia.

The essence of stevia’s sweetness comes from stevioside which is a glycoside, a naturally occurring compound that makes things taste sweet. Stevia leaves are dark green and plain stevia leaf powder is the same colour. The flavour, when it is bought in this form, is very sweet with a slightly bitter licorice after taste. It is wonderful when added to brewed tea, instead of sugar, and particularly good with fresh mint tea or sprinkled on ripe berries.

Stevia is also sold as a liquid and as a white powder. It is usually more expensive in these forms but but the bitterness and after tastes are removed.

This plant makes an exceptional sweetener and it has no calories. Its sweetness varies depending upon it is processed. A good test is to try as little as an eighth of a teaspoon of plain stevia in a cup of water. Stir it up well and then taste it. I find at this level green stevia leaf powder is pleasantly sweet without being cloying with as much flavour as eight times the amount of sugar!

© Barry Lazar 2000 Email Flavourguy

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