We bought our first stevia plants at the local nursery this year after reading about their natural sweetness (over 300x sweeter than sugar!) in one of our seed catalogs. It’s a sun-loving plant, and we’re still figuring out if it will survive in our cool, N. California coastal climate.
Coincidentally, we recently learned that stevia is set to be the next BIG zero calorie sweetener in the US.
When you nibble on a stevia leaf, it does have a very sweet flavor, though you’ll note a slightly bitter licorice or “greeney” aftertaste. In 1931, two French scientists discovered the “sweetness” chemical in stevia and developed an extraction process that eliminated the aftertaste.
In 1989, a petition was made by a Brazilian company, Stevita, to classify stevia as GRAS (generally regarded as safe). But the FDA required testing which would have amounted to $10 million, and the petition was withdrawn.
In 2007, PepsiCo and Coca-Cola bankrolled testing to get the FDA to approve stevia as GRAS. While these beverage powerhouses will not reveal their stevia-refining secrets, there are several patents out there that will give you a general idea.
As of Dec. 17, 2008, the FDA finally classified stevia as GRAS.
Though we haven’t tried this yet, we also learned that a water extract can be made by boiling or soaking fresh or dried leaves leaves, and then straining. However, alcohol extraction is believed to yield better results than water extraction.
Cargill claims their first step is water extraction in a Truvia™ infomercial. They are going to team up with Coca-Cola to develop the new zero-cal beverage sweetener. PureCircle (which supplies Coca-Cola and PepsiCo) also has an infomercial on their PureVia™ stevia sweetener.
If stevia products take off, the outlook for Equal® and SweetNLow has a good chance to sour.