Stevia is Sweet
Stevia is a plant from the sunflower family that is native to Paraguay. South American natives have used stevia as a sweetener in its raw, unprocessed form for hundreds of years. They call it “k’aa h’ee,” which means sweet leaf or honey leaf. Dr M.S. Bertoni botanically described Stevia rebaudiana (Bertoni) and named the plant in 1905 in honor of Paraguayan chemist Dr Rebaudi. The small green plant’s leaves have a delicious taste that can be 30 times sweeter than sugar.
The leaf of the stevia plant has 9 to 12 sweet-tasting compounds known as steviol glycosides, including Stevioside (‘STV’) and Rebaudioside A, the sweetest and best tasting of the compounds. Very high purity (95% or higher) extracted from the stevia leaf is known as Reb A, which is used in powder or liquid form to raise the intensity of sweeteners in a food, beverage or tabletop sweetener and/or to improve taste.
Sweeter Than sugar
While Reb A can be 300 to 400 times sweeter than an equal weight of sugar, it has zero calories and a low-glycemic index. It is also a non Genetically Modified Organism (GMO), and is heat stable and pH stable, which makes it ideal for use in a wide range of baked goods and confectionary.
Stevia Approved as Safe
Japan has been using stevia extracts for more than 30 years. In 2008, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) notice for Reb A sweetener use in food products. Numerous studies have shown that Reb A, unlike sugar, does not affect blood glucose or insulin levels.
In June 2008, the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (“JECFA”), administered jointly by the United Nations’ World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), raised the acceptable daily intake level for stevia. JECFA published its approval of stevia after a decade of study, stating that, “95% steviol glycosides are safe for human use in the range of four milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day”. This doubled the average daily intake level previously set by JECFA from earlier studies.
The European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) also approved Reb A as a food and beverage ingredient early in 2011; and it was approved for general consumption near the end of 2011. Reb A had already been approved for use in France under an associated review process. Retail products sweetened with Reb A are readily available there.
Then, in July 2011 Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) food standards program, the Codex Alimentarius Commission, published guidance on Reb A usage levels in common foodstuffs, further confirming acceptance of its safety. The Codex guidelines generally set the standard for the world.
Countries where stevia extracts have been approved for use in food and beverages include:
Stevia Used as Food Additive
Stevia Used as Dietary Supplement