Stevia 'natural' sugar substitute

Will low-kilojoule sweetener stevia revolutionise the way we flavour our food?
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01.What is stevia?


Stevia is a plant-based "natural" zero-kilojoule sweetener that offers an alternative to artificial sweeteners.

Here, we take a look at this new product and investigate:

Sugar substitute

Variously called Satan’s crystals, sweet poison, evil and toxic, sugar seems to have eclipsed traditional dietary enemies, fat and carbs, as the substance to blame for global obesity. This, combined with the rising rate of diabetes, is driving consumer demand for sugar-free and reduced-sugar products. 

Artificial or “intense sweeteners” such as aspartame, sucralose and saccharin have been around for decades, but despite the fact there’s no evidence to suggest they’re harmful, consumer distrust of synthetic substances and fear of their various possible side-effects have led to an appetite for “natural” sweeteners.

Stevia, a “natural” sugar substitute that’s started appearing on supermarket shelves, is generating a big buzz in food manufacturing. The leaves of this South American shrub have traditionally been used as a food sweetener and added to tea. About 300 times sweeter than sucrose (white sugar), it is a non-nutritive sweetener (NNS), which means it has almost no kilojoules and, because of its low carb content, has a negligible effect on blood sugar levels.

Widely used in Japan for more than 30 years, stevia had a controversial start in the US, where it was originally approved only as a dietary supplement due to uncertainty around its safety. Finally approved as food additive in the US and Australia in 2008, it received European Commission approval in 2011.


Appetite for natural sweeteners

The food industry’s interest in stevia has also been driven by a 30-year high in sugar prices (partially due to rising demand from China and India) and the increasing cost of high-fructose corn syrup. Stevia’s super sweetness may also offer cost savings as manufacturers use very small amounts compared with sugar.

The demonisation of cane sugar and high-fructose corn syrup is also motivating manufacturers to capitalise on consumer desire for “natural” products. As one commentator on a European food and beverage industry website pointed out, “one of the reasons stevia has taken off is that sugar is seen as the most unhealthy macronutrient – which is particularly advantageous to categories such as ready-to-drink tea and juice.”


In Australia, the stevia market accounts for about 30% of the low-kilojoule sweetener market, mainly in tablet, powdered, granulated and liquid form. But based on overseas trends, we can expect to see a proliferation of stevia-sweetened dairy and chocolate products, ice-creams, jams, chewing gums and drinks here in the near future.

The main advantage of stevia over sugar is its tiny kilojoule load. Compared with sugar’s 80kJ per teaspoon (5g), stevia-based sweetener Natvia is 4kJ, so adding it to your cuppa or home cooking can help shave kilojoules off your daily intake. It’s also more tooth-friendly than sugar, and its negligible effects on blood sugar levels make it a good choice for diabetics who want a sweet treat.



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