As a child I remember my grandmother carrying around a bottle of tiny pills she would drop into her coffee or tea. She said it was better for her than sugar. Used as an artificial sweetener since the late 1800s, those little pills (saccharin) would later carry a warning label that they caused cancer. Since further studies, the FDA removed that label. So my question is, does anyone really know? Personally, I’d rather use a natural sweetener, not one formulated in a chemist’s laboratory. Introducing stevia…
Native to Paraguay, Stevia (Stevia rebaudianais) is an herb said to be up to 300 times sweeter than sugar. It can be used straight from the herb bed, or in a processed form of drops or powder. Not only is it sweet with zero calories, studies have shown its sweet glycosides to have a positive effect on those with blood sugar issues. Although some might complain of an aftertaste when used in drinks, stevia is heat-stable and can be used in baked goods successfully. Let’s look at the different forms.
Like any herb, you can buy stevia leaves in the dried form. Or, you can grow it and make your own sweetener. The dried leaves contain about 8-12% of the sweet glycosides and work great to sweeten your iced tea. To make a gallon of tea, I pour about a quart of boiling water over 6 regular-sized tea bags and roughly two tablespoons of stevia leaves. (You will have to experiment with the amount here, to suit your own taste preferences. The longer you steep the tea, the more of an aftertaste the stevia leaves.) After steeping, I strain into my gallon pitcher, and add ice and cold water. Considering the price of evaporated cane juice recently jumped up 50%, using stevia provides quite a savings for a large family drinking sweet tea in the summer.
Sold in 2-ounce dropper bottles for around $10, you only need 1-4 drops to sweeten most beverages. For a great substitute to soda, you can add a few drops of flavored stevia extract to water, or even seltzer or soda water. Lara DeHaven, The Texas Homesteader, discusses her struggle to eliminate soft drinks from her diet. As we know, most soft drinks are sweetened with high fructose corn syrup or artificial sweeteners that have adverse effects on our health. Lara’s alternative? Mineral water with flavored stevia drops.
If you like to bake sweet things, but want to cut back or eliminate the sugar, try stevia powder. Containing 85-95% sweet glycosides, a 25-gram bottle of the powder equals almost 17 pounds of sugar. To substitute in your favorite recipes, you use ½ teaspoon to a tablespoon (depending on the brand and whether it contains fillers) to replace a cup of sugar.
What about you? Have you ever tried using stevia? Please share your experiences in the comments.
Photo by Arria Belli