Last week, we sat down to a beautiful breakfast at the Grounds on Alexandria with PureCircle. I mingled with fellow passionate healthy lifestyle bloggers sipping on peach ice tea and an chomping down on an amazing meal made with stevia by the one of Australia leading Chef’s and specialists in natural and sustainable food; Jared Ingersoll. The menu was right up my ally with pork belly poached in master bone broth for breakfast, amazing! I just wish Andrew could of been there to try it, its his favourite.
Along to chat was Plant nutritionist Hazel McTavish that gave us the run down of where stevia actually comes from and how that little leaf is turned into something that resembles table sugar. Stevia is something that I have been very interested learning more about but haven’t given it the time. To be honest, I have somewhat steered away from it in the past as I didn’t understand what it actually was. It was nice to see a real stevia plant, taste it and hear from a plant nutritionist about what this new stevia craze is all about.
You’ve probably heard about stevia. It’s a natural plant extract with zero calories and 200 times the sweetness of sugar, these days stevia is popping up in foodstuffs from gum to granola.
And while there’s a lot of talk, stevia isn’t a new kid on the block – here’s a look at its 1500 years of history.
- Stevia – or Stevia rebaudiana if you’re a botanist – is a small herb related to the sunflower. The indigenous tribes of Guaraní have been growing it in Paraguay for more than 1500 years, boiling its leaves into a sweet tea. The Guaraní call it “ka’a rirete” – “the leaf like honey”.
- ￼Although stevia is extremely sweet – it’s 200 times more intense than sugar – the plant extract doesn’t cause tooth decay, nor does it contain any kilojoules. Because of this, health experts, dietitians and nutritionists are backing purified stevia extract as a safe, sensible alternative for sweetening food.
- Although it may be the flavour of the month, stevia is already an ingredient in thousands of products all over the world: teas, soft drinks, juices, nectars, yogurt, soy milk, granola and snack bars, baked goods, cereals, salad dressings, chewing gum, canned fruit, jam and confectionery are all sweetened with stevia. In fact, from 2009 to 2012, the rate of new products sweetened with stevia globally grew by a massive 58 per cent.
- Stevia is recognised by leading health and regulatory bodies as safe to enjoy.3 Not only have the Guaraní peoples been eating it for centuries, stevia has also been subjected to rigorous scientific testing by respected research bodies throughout the world. Numerous countries and their major regulatory agencies – including the World Health Organisation and the strict United States Food and Drug Administration – have determined highly purified stevia extract to be safe for human consumption.
- Stevia is a totally non-genetically modified sustainable crop. Since it requires less water, energy and land than farming other kinds of sweetener crops, stevia doesn’t compromise farmers’ staple food crops such as cassava, beans or maize. Instead, it provides local primary producers with additional income and supports their traditional farming practices.
- Although it may seem as though the taste for stevia is just taking off, people have been researching this alternative sweetener for a long time. During the early 1940s there ￼￼was a push among agricultural academics in Britain and the US to develop the crop as an alternative to sugar. However, with the onset of World War II, and with no one to lobby effectively for government subsidy or compete with the powerful sugar industry, the movement for stevia waned.
- Once the war was over, however, the stevia believers got back to work. In 1945, botanist Luis A Gattoni was so adamant stevia could compete with sugar he petitioned the Paraguayan government to enact a cost-effective strategy to usher it into full-scale commercial agriculture. Alas, his plan fell on deaf ears. It wasn’t until November 2010 that the Paraguayan government finally proclaimed stevia “our national treasure”.