I’ve said it before: Americans love sugar. In practically everything! Yet it’s a rare one of us that doesn’t know that we need to cut back, and for some of us, maybe even avoid it altogether. Food manufacturers have known this for a very long time. They constantly seek to meet the demands of the American taste buds while at the same time trying to follow “healthy” guidelines and standards set forth admonishing us all to reduce our sugar intake. Their answer? Artificial sweeteners. They’re in everything from yogurt to flavored water, ice cream to iced tea and hot cocoa mix. But not here.
Just take a trip down the aisles of any Whole Foods Market and you won’t find ANY products containing any artificial sweeteners. These purely synthetic compounds do not exist in nature, so it’s no surprise our human bodies may be ill-equipped to handle them. Enter stevia, the sweet secret known for years by the natives of South America and eventually adopted by European colonists. The stevia plant originally comes from the rain forests of Brazil and Paraguay where it is known as the “yerba dulce” or “sweet leaf.” It’s still available in those regions, and it’s also now grown in Japan, Korea, Thailand and China where it’s commonly used. Today, the greatest use of stevia is in Japan. Stevia gets its flavor from various glycosides, particularly stevioside, which is 200 to 300 times sweeter than table sugar. It has no calories, minimal to no carbohydrates and a glycemic index of zero, After only allowing stevia as a dietary supplement for many years, the FDA has approved the use of certain stevia extracts in food products, making way for a variety of new products to enter the market.
One such new natural sweetener, Truvia™, is turning up in conventional grocery stores as well as natural food stores nationwide. Stevia is available in powdered white or powdered leaf form, or as a liquid extract. The white powdered and liquid forms are the strongest, so start with just a pinch. You can use it in beverages, baked goods, custards, puddings, frostings and sauces. It is heat stable, up to about 400°F, so you can use it in practically any recipe. Remember that it is not sugar, and when baking, it does not act like sugar. It won’t caramelize and brown your baked goods so some recipes won’t work with stevia. Ready to try some stevia?
- Use it in your tea or your coffee, hot or iced
- Add to yogurt or cream cheese
- Add a pinch to a fruit salad
- Stir it into strawberries
- Add to oatmeal or other hot or cold cereals
- Add to popsicles
- Bake with stevia; here’s a “Stevia Info” guide to help out.
Have you ever tried stevia? Do you bake with it or use it in beverages? I would love to hear!