With the rising concern to achieve a healthy and sustainable lifestyle, many have turned to natural sugar substitutes like stevia to avoid the harmful effects of the more commonly used table sugar and artificial sweeteners that proliferate the market. After all, to turn to natural sweeteners is to give a premium to your health. This is especially true if you are faced with diabetes or other health conditions that require you to lessen your caloric intake.
Stevia is a natural and plant-based sugar substitute that is regarded by many as a promising alternative to table sugar. With its variety of uses and versatile forms available in the market, living a healthier lifestyle becomes an extremely appealing option.
As a sugar substitute, stevia fares well compared to artificial sweeteners. The processed form of stevia is about 300 times sweeter than refined table sugar. When used in cooking or baking, 1 teaspoon of powdered or liquid stevia is equivalent to a whopping 1 cup of table sugar.
Stevia is sweet and versatile; it comes in a variety of forms. You can find stevia in powdered form, much like all the artificial sweeteners in the market. You can also opt to use stevia in liquid form (often called liquid extract) – which comes in a handy bottle that fits just right in your purse. Or, if you prefer the ultra natural lifestyle, you can use stevia to sweeten your food or beverage straight from the plant itself.
What are the forms of Stevia?
1. Stevia leaves
Stevia is a low-growing shrub native to Paraguay. For centuries, the Guarani Indians used stevia leaves as a sweetener, tonic, digestive aid, and even as a topical poultice to help in healing wounds.
For its primary use as a sweetener, stevia has earned the common names sweet leaf and sugar leaf among South American natives. Apart from South America, stevia is now also grown in Asia (most notably in Japan, India, and China) and in North America.
Stevia is easy to cultivate. So, go ahead, plant stevia in your garden and get the pleasure of being able to pluck fresh stevia leaves from your garden whenever you want to.
Not the gardening type? Some health shops also sell pre-packaged stevia leaves. The leaf can be used fresh or dried, cut or ground. The leaves can be added to hot water and allowed to steep to sweeten your drink. It can also be dried to make into an herbal tea or used as a base for your stevia powder.
2. Stevia powder
You can choose to dry your newly harvested stevia leaves to prolong its shelf life or to prepare your own ready-to-use stevia powder. To make powdered stevia, the plant’s leaves should be sun-dried for approximately 12 hours. The dried leaves are then crushed with the aid of a coffee grinder or with a mortar and pestle to create your homemade stevia powder.
Most stevia powder varieties found in health stores are chemically processed from stevia leaves. The process involves boiling the leaves in distilled water and then heat-drying the extract to make a powdered form of stevia. When prepared this way, the stevia powder has an off-white color. It becomes very concentrated that it is about a hundred times sweeter than the naturally prepared stevia powder.
3. Stevia liquid extract
Another form of stevia available in the market is the stevia liquid extract. Most of those readily available in stores are processed using food-grade alcohol. However, there are also those which are alcohol-free.
There are a number of commercial brands of stevia liquid to choose from. Some are packaged clear and unflavored while others are flavored with a tinge of vanilla, raspberry, or chocolate, to name a few. Stevia liquid extract is often marketed as a baking essential or as a more convenient and versatile option to using either fresh leaves or powdered stevia.
Despite the abundance of stevia liquid extracts in the market, making your own extract or stevia syrup is also a breeze. From your collection of dried leaves, you can make your own stevia syrup by adding a teaspoon of dried stevia leaves in two cups of distilled water and putting this mixture into a good, slow simmer until much of the water has evaporated and you are left with a syrupy concoction.
With its variety of uses and preparation, stevia is indeed a versatile sweetener that can cater to different preferences and needs. So, if you haven’t jumped into the zero-calorie and all-natural sweet lifestyle for fear of being inconvenienced, you might want to take a second look at stevia.
Category: What is Stevia