Stevia is the best calorie-free sweetener

Stevia: healthy or harmful?

What is stevia?

Stevia, organic: Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni, is an herbaceous plant from the Asteraceae family, which also includes sunflowers and dandelions. According to the literature, it has been known since the beginning of the 20th century that the plant has sweetness, but it was not possible to isolate it until 1931. Currently, Brazil, Uruguay, Central America, Paraguay, the USA, Israel, Thailand and China are the largest commercial producers of stevia . Plant extract is now the number one sweetener in Japan and Korea.

In the EU, stevia was only approved as a sweetener with the number E 960 in 2011. A legal distinction is made between the plant and the sweeteners extracted from it, the steviol glycosides. It has long been controversial whether the leaves of the stevia plant are a new type of food and are therefore subject to the novel food regulation or whether they do not require approval as a traditional food. Since the judgment of the European Court of Justice in 2011, the competent authority of the respective EU member state has been able to decide on a case-by-case basis.

Numerous products (e.g. beverages, liquid sweeteners, gummy bears ...) containing this sugar substitute are now legally available in stores. Incidentally, stevia makes the classic household sweetness look very old. The plant is up to 300 times more sweet than sugar - and is almost calorie-free. Another specialty of stevia: Sugar causes the blood sugar level to rise quickly and strongly, the vegetable sweetener, on the other hand, has hardly any effect on the blood sugar.

Stevia and Stevioside - What's the Difference?

Steviosides or steviol glycosides are natural components of the stevia plant, so basically a stevia extract. The plant leaves contain at least ten different glycosides, but the main component is almost always stevioside, which in its pure form is white and odorless, but very sweet.

Where is stevia used?

Stevia, or more precisely: steviol glycosides, are ideal for sweetening foods and soft drinks. They are very stable and work well with other flavors. However, depending on its purity, the sweetener has a very special taste profile, often it is noticeable in a licorice-like or bitter note.

In the food industry, steviol glycosides are only approved for certain food groups, for example for sweetening

  • Fruit nectar
  • yogurt
  • Ice cream
  • jam
  • Cocoa and chocolate products
  • Snacks
  • Soups
  • Sauces
  • cereal
  • beer
  • Fish products
  • Chewing gum and
  • sweets

In many cases, the approval of E 960 applies to diet products, i.e. sugar-free products, as well as products with low calorific values. However, manufacturers are only allowed to add stevia sweetener to the various foods - and also food supplements - up to the maximum amount specified in each case.

Powder, tablets and liquid stevia are available for plant-based sweetening of food, drinks and pastries at home. You don't add any calories to your own creations, but you may add an unwanted taste note. If you use too much stevia, cakes and the like quickly become bitter. By the way: The natural sweetener is unsuitable for sponge cakes, for example; this only works with real sugar.

Stevia for diabetics

The sweetener stevia is very popular with diabetes patients because, compared to sugar, it contains almost no calories and has only a very slight effect on blood sugar levels. Nevertheless, there are currently discussions about the use of stevia: There are voices who are not sure whether the substance is really harmless.

There are also a few stevia side effects: Sweeteners like this one can negatively affect body weight. Researchers suspect that it sends signals to the brain that increase food intake. Anyone who eats foods sweetened with stevia in large quantities may gain body weight.