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Stevia can be categorized as a genus, with around 240 species of herbs and shrubs and it is a part of the Asteraceae or Sunflower family. The plant is mostly a native of subtropical and tropical regions of North American and South American continent. A typical species of the Stevia known as the Stevia Rebaudiana is widely used for its sugar leaves, as it has a natural sweetness. It is also known by the name - sweetleaf, sugarleaf, and sweet leaf. The Stevia is widely used as a substitute for sugar and the sweet flavor has a longer effect than the sugar. The ‘Steviol glycoside’ chemical extracts present in the leaf has nearly up to 300 times more sweetness than sugar. The leaf has gained much popularity in the recent years due to the low sugar food substitutes and because of its negligible blood glucose levels it is famous among people who follow a carbohydrate-controlled diet. Stevia is widely used in Japan as a sweetener for decades, whereas many countries have banned or limited the use of Stevia. The United States of America had banned the usage of Stevia in the late 1990s, but by 2009 approved the usage of Rebaudioside A extract, since it was considered as food additive. The usage of Stevia as a sweetener by most of the countries has increased over time.

History of Stevia

The various species of Stevia can be found over South America, Mexico, and Central America including - New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas. Stevia has got its name from Petrus Jacobus Stevus, a physicist and botanist of Swedish origin. It’s after his name the herb was put the Latinized name –Stevia. The typical species, Stevia Rebaudiana, used as a sweetening agent was developed first in the country of South America. This particular sweet detail in the plant was found by the Swiss Botanist who went by the name of Moisés Santiago Bertoni in 1899. Major information on the sweetness detail was found in 1931 by two chemist of French origin, who separated the glycosides which provided Stevia with its sweet flavor. The compounds were called - Rebaudioside & Stevioside . These compounds are nearly 250 to 300 times as sweet as sucrose being stable in pH and heat stable along with being non-fermentable. Japan began the cultivation of Stevia in the first part of 1970s, which substituted artificial sweeteners like Saccharin and Cyclamate. The first commercial Japanese Stevia sweetener was brought out by the firm - Morita Kagaku Kogyo Co., Ltd. in 1971.

Culinary Uses of Stevia

Fresh Stevia leaves are mostly added in tea and also used in other food stuffs. The sweeteners can be produced from the plant's leaves, purified Steviosides, and the aqueous extract of the leaves. The Japanese have been utilizing Stevia in their food items, soft drinks, and table use. Japan is known to be the biggest consumer of Stevia in the world. The Japanese sweetener market consists of 40% Stevia product when compared to the rest of the world. Other countries which produce and use Stevia includes - China, Thailand, Korea, Taiwan, and Malaysia. The largest exporter of Stevioside in world is China. Stevia sweeteners can be found commercially under various brand names. Since the Stevia sweeteners have a low percentage of Glycemic and calorie contents it is considered as the healthiest alternative for sugar and other artificial sweeteners. The plant nearly contains zero calories, which makes it popular among diet watchers. They are used in the preparation of various processed foods including - ice-cream, sweet drinks, etc. Fresh Stevia leaves can be used while preparing coffee or tea instead of sugar. Soft Drink giants Pepsi CO. and Coco Cola have introduced products with Stevia as the sweetening agent.

Health facts of Stevia

  • Stevia has been used by the Guaraní peoples of Paraguay, Brazil, and Bolivia, which is known as ‘ka'a he'ê’ or the "sweet herb". It is used to make medical teas as a treatment for heartburn.
  • A latest research has shown that Stevia is a promising treatment for Obesity and Hyper Tension.
  • It can be used by people with Diabetics and for Carbohydrate-controlled diets as it is a natural sweetening agent.