Last year when my uncles came down to visit they introduced me to the idea of Stevia. I had heard about it in the news and the odd articles I had read, but I hadn’t really spent too much time finding out more about it and where one can get it locally. So after they left I decided to head out to find some and see what all the hype was about – and if it really is a decent sweet sugar substitute as they claim it to be. So I headed into my local organic store to see if I could get my hands on a bottle or tub and there it was (later I kept my eyes open and even found it at Pick n Pay!). I got myself a punnet of strawberries and popped a few drops on them to test it and wow, it really is as sweet, if not sweeter than sugar. And considering that it has zero calories, I was super impressed and excited. I haven’t had a chance to bake with it yet as I am not sure how to adjust the quantities, but that will come with time when I feel experimental. For now, the liquid Stevia definitely is a great option for those who like having sugar in their tea or coffee.
If you’re interested to find out more about Stevia, the below press release was sent to me via the Livewired PR team.
Stevia has a rich cultural history and has been used for thousands of years by people all over the world for a large number of functions. It was back in the 1500’s that the Guarani Tribe in Paraguay first discovered the versatility of the Stevia plant. This native South American tribe made use of Stevia for its sweetening and medicinal properties. In 1899 the plant was given a revised description by Moisés Santiago Bertoni’s who was involved in an in-depth study of the Stevia plant and its extracts. His academic journal called: Kaa-he-e, Its Nature and Its Properties. Over a hundred years later Stevia entered the Japanese market and has been used ever since.
“Stevia is perhaps best known for its sweetening properties,” informs Dr Nokwanda Makunga, President of the South Association of Botanists and also a senior lecturer at the University of Stellenbosch’s Department of Zoology and Botany. “Its principle ingredient is ‘Reb A’ which is the sweetest ingredient of the Stevia plant. The extract can be up to 300 times sweeter than sugar which makes it ideal to assist as part of a kilojoule restricted diet and to help reduce sugar intake,” she informs. For example, Canderel Green is a low kilojoule sweetener that is sweetened with the extract of the Stevia plant. “Canderel Green provides an alternative to sugar that is made with ingredients of natural origin and is kilojoule free,” says Dr Makunga.
Stevia’s natural sweet properties make it an ideal sweetening agent in a wide variety of food and beverages, such as ice-cream, cool drinks, yoghurt, cereals, salad dressings and the like. “Stevia does not affect blood sugar levels and also contains antibacterial and antifungal properties,” adds Dr Makunga, who is extremely excited about the use of Stevia in food production in markets in South Africa and abroad.
Reb A is not absorbed into the body and is easily processed thus leaving no trace of residue in the blood. “To this end, Stevia has been shown in studies to have a regulatory effect on insulin metabolism,” she reports.
Moreover, Dr Makunga points out that the plant is used in a variety of pharmaceutical products. “The plant is also aromatic and produces an aromatherapy oil that can be used for therapies and cosmetics.”
“Ultimately, the history of Stevia can be traced back hundreds of generations. Its chemical structure has been known since the late 1800’s and there is a growing body of research that proves the plant is beneficial for human consumption – as a sweetening agent, for medicinal uses and even as a herbal tea,” Dr Makunga concludes.