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Stevia, Choosing the Better Sugar Alternative
For almost a century science has been seeking the holy grail of sugar alternatives. From chemical sweeteners made in the laboratory to the sweet sugar alcohols extracted from fruits and vegetables, the pursuit of the perfect sugar replacement very well may have been found in the humble Stevia plant.
Stevia belongs to a Genus containing over 200 species of plants, native to Central and South America. Stevia rebaudiana has been used for centuries to sweeten beverages and foods and for medicinal purposes. In its raw, natural state, the stevia leaf contains over 100 phytonutrients.
Introduced to Europe by Swiss botanist, Antonio Bertoni in 1899, it wasn’t until 1931 that the components providing the sweetness were isolated by two French chemists. Eight sweet constituents have since been identified from two main families (Steviosides and Rebaudiosides). Referred to as steviol glycosides, they are 250-300 times sweeter than sucrose, heat stable, pH stable and non-fermentable.
Measurements and Tips for Replacing Sugar with Stevia
Stevia is extremely versatile making it a perfect sugar replacement in most food applications. When combined with other ingredients, stevia has been said to enhance the true flavours. It can be incorporated into beverages, baked goods, desserts, fruit and nut spreads, confectionery, and used as a table-top sweetener.
Stevia does not caramelize or crystallize like sugar, so it may not be suitable for some baking applications. Different stevia products offer different levels of sweetness. Listed in the chart are approximate sweetness equivalencies.
If using stevia packets another possible conversion option would be to substitute 1 cup of sugar for 18 to 24 stevia sweetener packets. Consider altering these ratios based on how sweet you wish your recipe to be in the end. Keep in mind that not all stevia sweeteners are created equally, nor do they all taste the same. Some manufacturers use components that include all of the eight Steviosides while others isolate one or two small fractions. This affects the taste of the end product and often requires trial and error in order to find the better stevia for your taste. Consider whole-leaf or full-spectrum stevia extracts if you are looking for a more “whole food” and a better-tasting stevia product.
Baking with Stevia
In baking, sugar may play a substantial role as a bulking agent so when using stevia in baking recipes, other bulking agents need to be included. In cake recipes, for example, for each cup of sugar substituted with stevia, 1/3 cup of bulking agent is needed. Bulking agents may include: egg whites, apple sauce, fruit puree or yogurt. If one of these bulking agents is already being used (such as a banana in a banana nut cake), simply increase the amount of that specific ingredient in the recipe. Sugar also helps make cakes lighter, so your end result when using stevia will be a denser baked good. To counter this, add a bit more baking powder than what is called for in the recipe. Replacing the sugar component with stevia in any recipe will be somewhat experimental initially; however, manufacturers’ or “how to” websites often provide additional resource and information to help in this area.
Stevia is gaining popularity as a sweetening alternative due to its intensive sweetness, diversity and functionality, but also because of its positive health impact. It is suitable for diabetics or any individual looking for a sugar substitute that has no glycemic (blood sugar) impact and provides zero calories per serving as well. Numerous health claims have been backed up by scientific research. Stevia’s blood pressure lowering effects have been documented, (PubMed 14693305) as have blood sugar stabilizing effects in diabetics (Elsevier – Science Direct). If you haven’t tried stevia yet, you may be missing out on a healthier choice.