Skip to main content

Released on the market in 2011, the sweetener stevia is a food additive of plant origin such as the allulose which has a sweetener up to 300 times higher than that of sucrose, i.e. the common sugar that uwe use in the kitchen. At the same time it has no calories and does not affect the blood sugar level, as it behaves like a fiber (that is, it is not metabolised, but disposed of by the body).

Even before being a natural sweetener, however, stevia is a plant. A plant, to be precise, from which an extract is obtained – a bit like sugar cane – which can be used in the kitchen. Thanks to its properties, both for the taste and for the effects on the organism, stevia is widely used both by those who follow it diets slimming (like the keto diet / ketogenic) and by sportsmen and by those who need to keep their health under control.

A toanother point to its advantage is the fact that it is already widely disseminatedto in some areas of the world such as Japan, where ad example the production of Cola sweetened with stevia – now also widespread in Italy under the name of Cola Life – had begun well before that in Western countries.

Yes, because as far as our tables are concerned, we still don't have enough elements to decide on the stevia sugar dispute: do we really know stevia? And do we know how to use it? If you too are curious to know more, in this article we have summarized everything that is known about this exceptional sweetener.

Stevia sweetener: a bit of history

Its “formal” name is stevia rebaudiana, but in South America it is better known as “kaʼa heʼẽ”, a word meaning “sweet herb”. This is because it was originally used in Paraguay and Brazil to sweeten foods - especially mate - but also as a medicine. The official botanical science makes it known only at the end of the 1800s, while for the first commercial uses it is necessary to wait for the beginning of the Sixties.

It is in this period, in fact, that it begins to spread in Japan and in the countries of South-East Asia. Qui quickly gains wide popularity, as well as in the USA. The same can be said for some areas such as Nepal and India, whose climate is favorable for the cultivation of the plant. Stevia is, in fact, a perennial plant that does not like the cold, preferring temperate-warm, and possibly humid climates. In Paraguay it grows, for example, mainly in forests.

A little curiosity: there are actually over one hundred species of stevia plant, but only one of them has sweetening properties.

The properties of the stevia plant

In botany, what we know as a natural sweetener is a perennial herbaceous plant of the Asteraceae (Compositae) family. It is characterized by its small size. In fact, it usually does not exceed half a meter, and its leaves have an elliptical shape and a bright dark green colour.

It is precisely the leaf that can be macerated to obtain the sweetener. In fact, this contains 4 substances with a high sweetish taste: stevioside, rebaudioside A, rebaudioside C, dulcoside A. The first two even have from 110 to 400 times more sweetening power than sugar.

In the food industry he comes processed and now arrives in the most varied formats. Qthis has facilitated its diffusion, making it extremely practical to use not only in industry, but also in common kitchens. In fact, we can find stevia in fresh leaves to macerate at home or powder (highly soluble). Or we can find it in an aqueous or alcoholic based syrup or, again, in macerated dry leaves.

If, on the other hand, you want to know if the diet foods you are buying contain stevia, what you have to do is look for the abbreviation: E960.

Stevia sugar: because stevia is healthier than table sugar

We just said it: stevia has a sweetening power that can be up to 400 times higher than that of sugar. But the effects increase 400 times? No, on the contrary, they reset. Where sugar has a calorie content that makes it necessary to be careful with its use, stevia has almost no calories.

Where sugar turns in glucose and it affects insulin, the level of sugar in insulin, and pancreatic functions, making life difficult for those suffering from diabetes, insulin resistance and obesity, stevia does not raise glycemic values. On the contrary, it tends to lower blood pressure, and is therefore indicated for those suffering from hypertension. Finally, and this is definitely news that makes stevia ideal for everyone, it does not produce bacterial fermentation in the mouth, therefore, it does not cause plaque or tooth decay.

But let's take a closer look at its nutritional values. ORother than not present the problems of cooking sugar, stevia is also rich in water, amino acids, fibres, sugars, lipids, mineral salts, B vitamins, vitamin C, beta carotene. In a nutshell, it provides nutrients that are decidedly beneficial to the body. THEIt also has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which is why it was also used by South American peoples as a medicine.

How to use stevia in cooking

Yes, if stevia is so useful for sweetening foods and is so good for you, if it is ideal for those suffering from certain pathologies and has no calories - therefore it is also perfect for those on a diet - we can use it in the kitchen or we have to limit ourselves to buying stevia-based industrial products? We absolutely can use it in the kitchen.

Indeed, it is distributed in many convenient formats, both natural and flavored, such as stevia ALFAPOWER FOOD cherry flavored.

Lovers of good food also appreciate its qualities as an ingredient. In fact, the active ingredients remain stable over time and at high temperatures, which does not happen with synthetic food sweeteners. What does this mean? That stevia can also be used in baked goods and hot drinks.

But then, what can we do with stevia? Here comes the good news. With this natural sweetener you can prepare all kinds of desserts that we are used to. From donuts to brownies, from sponge cake to lemon cake, passing through the classic biscuits we eat for breakfast. It can be used both in the flavored version, to give an extra touch of flavour, and in the natural version. In this second case, it is good to pay attention to the fact that stevia has a slight licorice aftertaste, which has stimulated the imagination of amateur cooks, who have modified the recipes in order to enhance its natural aroma.

In short, not only is it good for you, but with stevia you will also have fun varying your recipes and experimenting with new flavors.

Stevia: controversy and side effects

Before its diffusion on the market, the use of stevia - as indeed happens for many products - raised many doubts, and was also the subject of some fake news. Some, in fact, have raised the problem of its possible harmfulness to health, and in particular the fact that it could be carcinogenic.

Where does this problem arise from? In truth, today we can say that it was a everyone the effects of an attempt to hit all the competition. There are, in fact, sweeteners that have proved to be carcinogenic, but these are products with a synthetic formulation. And at the same time the market for food sweeteners, especially dietary sweeteners, feeds a truly remarkable turnover that companies reasonably try to protect.

It was actually a good thing. These controversies have meant that stevia has been subjected to very extensive and in-depth studies, which is always good for consumers, especially when it comes to food products. The outcome of these studies was absolutely positive. This led to approval by the authorities for its release on the market.

Above all, thanks to the great debate which stevia has been the subject of, today we can count on the opinion of the highest level authorities, such as the WHO and the FAO, in addition to the local safety authorities (including the EU) of course.

And the side effects?

As we have already said, there tends to be none. However, thanks to sector studies, it has been found that stevia can give some small contraindications in case of overdose. THEn particularly with reference to hypotension and diarrheal phenomena. For this reason, a daily dose of no more than 4 mg per kg of body weight is recommended (about six teaspoons for a man weighing 80 kg).. ua dose which, moreover, is really difficult to overcome. Indeed, the Its high sweetening properties mean that very little stevia can be used.

Enough with the bitter coffee!

In short, you will have understood it, stevia is really ideal for all those who, having to control their weight or their health, have had to give up cooking sugar. And if until yesterday this meant being careful with sweets and having to get used to drinking bitter coffee, today it is no longer the case. genjoy the pleasures of the table with stevia, without any more sacrifices.