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?
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
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
Agriculture and Food web site has some good information on growing your
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!
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Map courtesy of www.theodora.com/maps
used with permission.
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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.