Get Rolling Logo

Inline Skating Newsletter Article

Have You Discovered Stevia Yet?

By Dan Kibler
There is a lemon tree just outside our kitchen window that delivers an abundance of big juicy fruit twice a year. And what do you do when life gives you lemons? Make lemonade, of course! But traditional lemonade requires a big dose of sugar to counter the flavorful but decidedly sour lemon juice. Lemonade tastes great on hot summer days, but lots of sugar is not what we want on our modern health diet. Until recently we resorted to artificial sweeteners such as saccharine or aspartame, but never felt good about it. I always felt we were trading one potential evil for another. Then Liz heard about stevia from one of her friends. I was definitely skeptical, but we gave it a try. It makes tasty low-cal lemonade! Now stevia is a regular part of our diet.

What is stevia?

Stevia is a naturally sweet herb that was originally grown in Paraguay. Stevia extract is many times sweeter than sugar and has no calories. Due to big agribusiness politics, it can only be sold in the US as a food supplement. Neither it nor foods that contain it can be labeled sweet or sweetener. But it is indeed sweet. One third of a teaspoon of stevia powder is the equivalent of a cup of sugar! (Any metric cooks out there know the equivalent?) The extract comes in both liquid and powder form and can be used anywhere sugar or honey is used solely for sweetening. Some items like cookies that require sugar for structure might not adapt so well. (See Liz's Cooking Tip at end.) We find liquid stevia works best for small doses such as sweetening a cup of tea or espresso while the powder is best for bulk items or things you have to mix well anyway, such as our lemonade concentrate. Unprocessed stevia leaves can also be added directly to tea, drinks and other concoctions. They are not as potent as the extract but provide a no hassle, no calorie natural sweetness. The leaves work best if dried and crumbled first. Some claim that there are medicinal benefits from using the whole leaves, also.

A little history

While there are whole books and web sites devoted to stevia, I'll try to provide a few in highlights in the stevia story. Long before the European invasion, the natives of what is now Paraguay and neighboring areas of Brazil and Argentina used stevia to sweeten their bitter tea - mate, for medicinal purposes or to simply chew for its sweet taste. It remained more or less a secret from the Europeans until "discovered" by Dr. Moises Santiago Bertoni, director of the College of Agriculture in Asuncion in 1887.Its cultivation did not start until 1908. Stevia's use has grown sporadically since then. Surprisingly, one of the major adopters is Japan where food safety is taken very seriously. Stevia has a large share of the sweetener market there. But in the US and other countries, it was viewed as a threat to the sweetener industry. In the early 1990's there was concerted effort by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to wipe out the import and use of stevia in the US. Their efforts included confiscating and destroying stevia shipments, directing the destruction of stevia-related books (we're talking cookbooks here!) and harassing companies like Celestial Seasonings who used stevia in their products. It was not until the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act became law in 1994 that stevia became fully legal in the US as a dietary supplement. It still cannot be marketed as a sweetener. However my packages of stevia extract have instructions on the back on how to use them as a sweetener. Attempts to label stevia as harmful have continued however. It is quite clear to me from what I've read that use of stevia in small doses as a sweetener is safe and may actually be beneficial. To learn more about stevia, a good place to start is

Growing Stevia

While perusing herbs at my local nursery, I came across some stevia seedlings. I bought one and planted it right next to the basil in my garden. Despite the late start, it is doing quite nicely. It is being watered by our drip system supplemented by direct watering on the hottest days - nothing else special. Stevia is supposed to be a perennial, but I'm not sure it will survive a hard freeze. I'll let you know how ours fares. An article found on the Government of Ontario's Agriculture and Food web site has some good information on growing your own.

Dan's Estate Grown Lemonade

Because we have lots of lemons from our tree, we make lemonade base a quart (liter) at a time. The simple recipe is:1 quart lemon juice
1 teaspoon stevia extract powderThe powder dissolves slowly, so we use a power whisk or shaker bottle to speed the process. One cup of the base can be diluted with 5-6 cups of water to make a pitcher of lemonade. We usually dilute it further with ice or sparkling water in the glass. Enjoy! Map courtesy of used with permission. Liz's Cooking Tip (Thanks to fellow in-line instructor Dawn Jordan from Ohio): For recipes that depend on the structure provided by the sugar granules, try Splenda, a sugar-derived low-carb sweetener that equates cup for cup to granulated sugar.