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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Natural Sweetener: Stevia

A few months ago Marisa and I had the opportunity to go to a Holistic conference and learn about a variety of different subjects from raw food cooking, to how to use natural sweeteners, to natural pain management techniques and herbal cures. I wanted to discuss one of the natural sweeteners that I learned about.

My Dad was a farmer while I was growing up. During the winter he would work in a gas station to supplement his farm income. My Mom worked in some of the country gas stations as well while I grew up. Needless to say, when I would visit them they would let me pick out some candy at the store. I have loved candy and sweets ever since. 5th Avenues and chewy sweet tarts are my favorite. It might surprise most of you to know (sarcasm intended) that these types of treats are full of unnatural ingredients and empty calories. I still eat them once in a while but I have tried to find other ways to get my sweet tooth fix.

Stevia is a natural sweetener found in the leaf of the Stevia herb. Stevia originates in Paraguay and Brazil where the natives call it sweet herb or honey leaf. The leaves of a Stevia plant are about 15 times as sweet as sugar, and the extract is 250 to 300 times as sweet as an equivalent amount of sugar.

We are relatively new to Stevia in our household but we use it in two different ways. We bought a stevia plant at the farmer's market. It is growing on the patio and when we make green smoothies for breakfast, we throw some of the leaves in to act as a sweetener.

I also bought a bottle of the Now Foods Stevia extract that you see pictured to the right. It is in powder form and stevia is the only ingredient. I bought it at my local health food store. When looking at the stevia products check the ingredients because there are still quite a few that have additives and ingredients that I don't recognize. We add it to herbal tea, oatmeal, some of the herbal sodas that we make, and even some of the sauces I use to put on my meat when grilling. We haven't figured out how to use it as a sugar substitute in baking.

Do you use Stevia in your recipes? If so let us know how you use it.


Aly said...

I love the idea of growing my own stevia plant, thanks! We love our green smoothies around here in the mornings...Farmers Market here I come.

I am on a raw foods diet for healing purposes. Sure enough I glanced at my "Stevia In The Raw" bag and it's first ingrediant is Maltodextrin. Thanks for the heads up...feeling a little silly that I didn't look at the label before consuming!

angela said...

I have a stevia plant growing in a flower pot as part of my little herb garden. That sucker is probably over 3 feet tall now! I've been reading up on how to best harvest it...drying it properly this fall so I can continue to use it throughout the winter. I must say, it's difficult to keep my girls from pinching off a leaf and chewing on it while they play in the yard. It's so sweet! They don't swallow it, by the way, they toss it in the grass...which may explain a few extra neighborhood cats roaming around.


Man oh man you are tracking with me. 1st garlic - now stevia!. I'm getting ready to plant some seeds and would love to use it in my kitchen. I'll watch for any recipes you pass along. Thanks!

Mike said...

I haven't tried growing it from seed yet Maybelline. Let me know how it works. Some people have told me that the plant will live for a few years if it is brought in from the cold for the winter. Others have said that it dies in the fall no matter what. Does anybody have experience with this?

Jan said...

I have grown it from seed and had 6 plants. they survived into one nice plant. I have mine in a pot and its inside now that the nights are getting cooler. Mine has died off then came out growing again.

Malisams said...

I tried baking once with Stevia, only to discover that there are two different "forms" of it sold in most stores - one for using as a sweetener in drinks (which is what I had purchased), and another specifically for cooking/baking. The for-beverages version is AWFUL in baking. So, you know, make sure you're getting the right one for your needs (if you're buying vs cultivating). :)