Stevia is a sweetener and sugar substitute extracted from the leaves of the plant species Stevia rebaudiana.
The active compounds of stevia are steviol glycosides (mainly stevioside and rebaudioside), which have up to 150 times the sweetness of sugar, are heat-stable, pH-stable, and not fermentable. These steviosides have a negligible effect on blood glucose, which makes stevia attractive to people on carbohydrate-controlled diets. Stevia’s taste has a slower onset and longer duration than that of sugar, and some of its extracts may have a bitter or licorice-like aftertaste at high concentrations.
Stevia is perhaps unique among food ingredients because it’s most valued for what it doesn’t do. It doesn’t add calories. Unlike other sugar substitutes, stevia is derived from a plant.
The stevia plant is part of the Asteraceae family, related to the daisy and ragweed. Several stevia species called “candyleaf” are native to New Mexico, Arizona and Texas.
But the prized species, Stevia rebaudiana (Bertoni), grows in Paraguay and Brazil, where people have used leaves from the stevia bush to sweeten food for hundreds of years. In traditional medicine in these regions, stevia also served as a treatment for burns, colic, stomach problems and sometimes as a contraceptive.
Today, stevia is part of the sugar substitute market.
Does stevia work?
Stevia has no calories, and it is 200 times sweeter than sugar in the same concentration. Other studies suggest stevia might have extra health benefits.