In recent years we have heard more and more often, and we find more and more sweetened products based on stevia, as a light alternative to the traditional versions. An example of his fame? Today even Coca Cola, by far the most popular soft drink in the world, has a version sweetened with stevia.
But are we sure we really know stevia, such a popular natural sweetener? If you too are curious to know more, then this article is right for you. Make yourself comfortable, we'll take care of the rest!
But stevia, what is it really?
Used in the food sector as a sweetener, Stevia is a plant native to South America with a sugary taste and a vague licorice aftertaste. This is thanks to leaves rich in glucosides, which have sweetening properties that even surpass sucrose, which is our white cooking sugar.
Given the licorice aftertaste, the food industry actually hesitated for a long time before introducing stevia on the market, limiting it to uses where it was less "in sight". Its popularity is in fact linked to the use in diets: containing more active ingredient than sucrose, it is in fact able to sweeten any food with much fewer calories.
Is stevia good for you?
The healthiness of stevia has been a hotly debated topic in recent years, precisely because of its growing popularity. But also of the fact that, in the past, sweeteners suspected of being carcinogenic or harmful to health in various ways had been placed on the market. In fact, studies conducted on stevia have shown that it does not contain toxic or carcinogenic substances, and that it generally has no side effects.
On the contrary, it is so safe that it can be used even by children and pregnant women. Furthermore, unlike saccharin, stevia, a natural sweetener, does not affect blood sugar levels, and is therefore ideal for those with problems such as diabetes or insulin resistance.
However, it is recommended not to exceed 4mg per day per kilo of weight. Beyond this dose, in fact, it is not guaranteed that stevia will not affect pathologies to which the subjects are already predisposed, such as hypoglycemia and hypotension. This means that it is advisable to check all the labels of packaged foods, and verify that they contain the abbreviation E960, which identifies steviol glucosides.
How to use stevia in cooking
Stevia is used as an alternative to white cooking sugar, therefore everywhere people are used to using sugars, from coffee to sweets. As we have said, having much higher sweetening properties than saccharin, much less is needed, which is of great help for those who are following a low-calorie diet (but also low-sugar diets such as ketogenic diet or the paleo diet).
When using stevia, however, keep in mind that it has a different aroma than white sugar. This means that the palate will have to get used to the aftertaste of licorice – but those who have tried it say that you get used to it very quickly – or change your recipes. For those who like to dabble with new recipes, it is certainly a new flavor with which to challenge oneself in the kitchen to find the best pairings.
Where and how to find the sweetener stevia
If you have decided to buy stevia and you are wondering where to find it because you have never noticed its presence until now, the answer is: everywhere. If in the past it could only be found in herbal medicine, online and in specialized vegan shops, today it is almost impossible not to come across stevia or products sweetened with stevia in any supermarket.
You can also find it in different formats. From fresh leaves or even packs of powder. And finally, really convenient for coffee and desserts, in a ready-to-use liquid extract. People who usually use it in cooking tend to buy the fresh leaves or even the plant. Then just dry the leaves by placing them upside down on a sheet of absorbent paper, and finally crumble them in the kitchen mixer. In this way you get an absolutely natural sweetening powder (and convenient: by purchasing the plant you will always have a ready supply!)
One last tip: the liquid extract is extremely convenient, but at the same time it is a product that contains alcohol, so it is good to keep this factor in mind when thinking about using it in everyday life. If you want a homemade extract, know instead that it is enough to macerate the fresh leaves in 95% alcohol for 15 days. Boil so that the alcohol evaporates and you will obtain a product with a density similar to that of syrup.
Who is stevia recommended for (some final advice)
Anyone can use stevia, whether it's to keep weight in check or to try cooking with a new flavor. Some, though, could actually reap surprising benefits from it. First of all, as we have said, those who are on a diet. And especially those who are on a diet and just can't give up sweets.
But also those suffering from hypertension and hyperglycemia, as the sweetener stevia regulates the level of sugar in the blood. And also, speaking of sugars: while saccharin has a slight inflammatory power, stevia is instead an anti-inflammatory that fights the appearance of free radicals.
In short: thinner, healthier and younger. And you, what are you waiting for to try stevia?