Kitchen Stewardship | A Baby Steps Approach to Balanced Nutrition

A Sweet, Sweet Summer: What are the Facts on Stevia?

September 22nd, 2011 · 103 Comments · Food for Thought, Science of Nutrition

A safe, natural sweetener with zero calories and zero aftertaste that doesn’t cause cancer in lab rats? Is that a dream too good to be true?

I’m hoping not.

Stevia is fast becoming my favorite formerly-unknown sweetener, if only for the mystery surrounding it, the foodie vs. government controversy, and the fact that I feel confident recommending it to diabetics, a rarity. But is stevia safe?

If you asked me about stevia a year ago, I would have been skeptical. I would have told you I just wasn’t sure about it, both from a safety standpoint and an aftertaste issue.

Now I’ve found a few brands that I like, no aftertaste, and I keep seeing more positive than negative press on the health benefits or dangers of stevia.
This post is part of a series on natural sweeteners.

What IS Stevia, Anyway?

If you’ve never looked into stevia, I’m guessing you think it’s a white powder in a little packet.

In truth, stevia is a green plant grown much like mint, an herb whose leaves are 30-50 times sweeter than sucrose (table sugar).

It’s been cultivated and used both as a sweetener in tea and for its medicinal properties for centuries in Paraguay and other parts of South America.

Stevia is named after Spanish botanist Pedro Jaime Esteve, which means it’s pronounced “STEH-vee-uh” with a short “e” like “step,” not “STEE-vee-uh” like “steep.”

The dried green leaves can be used to sweeten beverages, but from what I understand, there is a bitter aftertaste and certain flavor to the leaves that makes them undesirable for use as a general sweetener. However, if you can find the green powder, you know you have a completely unprocessed form of stevia.

UPDATE: I’ve used the green powder now, and although my husband doesn’t like it in yogurt, I don’t mind it, and it’s really quite good in tea – just add it in while you steep your tea.

When processed, manufacturers seek to extract only the sweet part of the leaf, called rebaudioside A, which is 300 times sweeter than sugar. The process usually involves drying the leaves, using water for the first extraction and then narrowing the product down to only the sweetest part with methanol or ethanol. (source)

Warning sirens just went off for the naturally minded among you, right? Ethanol and methanol aren’t parts of a normal, healthy diet.

Finding the Safe Stevia Brands

Generally, a liquid extract of stevia is less processed and doesn’t need the chemicals that the white powder form requires. I imagine it’s a bit like making vanilla extract or mint extract or something.

In my experience, having tasted the liquid extract from NuNaturals and multiple powders, the liquid extract is much more desirable as far as flavor goes. It sweetens with little to no taste added, whereas most powders have a bitter, off aftertaste that reminds me of artificial sweeteners, which I despise. Ever gotten the wrong soda at a restaurant? I can tell immediately if there’s aspartame in something.

I had previously written off the powders as too highly processed – how do you get a white powder from a green leaf, anyway? – and yucky tasting anyway. I’ve tried stevia powders from Sugar in the Raw, Truvia, NuNaturals, and SweetLeaf. Only the SweetLeaf brand has no aftertaste (a very little one, actually, but you have to be paying close attention to notice it).

This makes sense because Sweetleaf is processed completely through cool water extraction, no chemicals allowed. The white powder is white, and not green, simply because the reb-A is not related to the chlorophyll in the plant, which is responsible for the green color. Most other brands also include fillers in their powders, including dextrose (corn sugar) or erythritol.

My husband actually prefers the NuNaturals brand, and he hates the taste of artificial sweeteners as well. Others tasted it for me on some fresh Michigan strawberries earlier this summer and had mixed reviews. My father and godfather both thought the powder was just fine.

My mother and godmother, with more discerning palates I believe, both thought the NuNaturals powder was terrible. My godmother does use artificial sweeteners and still disliked the aftertaste; she says she’s tried TruVia and it made her physically ill.

The bottom line? Stick with liquid stevia when possible and check the background of the company’s processing with powders.


Health Benefits of Stevia

Unlike most other sweeteners, stevia can actually have medicinal properties as well, including:

  • possible positive effect on triglycerides, cholesterol and obesity (source)
  • anti-inflammatory effect
  • may help diarrhea
  • negligible effect on blood glucose (i.e. safe for diabetics)
  • used in South America to actually treat diabetes, but few studies to support this claim
  • may lower blood pressure (source) (or not)
  • may treat heartburn (source)
  • may improve skin rashes like eczema and eliminate dandruff (source)

Stevia is a zero-calorie sweetener, which is a nice bonus. It also does not increase your cravings for sweet things like consuming white sugar can

Possible Dangers and Disadvantages of Stevia

There are a couple issues with stevia that may make you pause before making it your primary favorite sweeteners.

On the baking side, because stevia has no bulk, it is difficult to replace sugar in your favorite recipes. There are some “baking blends” that add things like erythritol or other fillers to stevia so that you can sub 1:1 with sugar.

I tried NuNaturals brand of stevia for baking, subbing it for half of the sugar in my healthy pumpkin muffins. Disaster. The batch had a really odd aftertaste that most would probably guess was an artificial sweetener. I would never do it again, honestly. Not worth ruining the batch, even though the muffins were still edible – they just weren’t nearly as fun to eat.

Sweetleaf is coming out with a baking blend that uses inulin as a filler. Inulin is a soluble fiber found in all fruits and vegetables that humans don’t digest. I must say I’m curious to try this one.

On the health side, there are (as usual) conflicting reports on overall safety of stevia. In Paraguay, it is sometimes used as contraception, and there are one or two studies that confirm its contraceptive effects. However, I don’t know if the extract retains that property or just the whole leaf. I tend to avoid allowing my daughter to consume it because of that – who knows what it might do to her developing reproductive system?

This source makes a good point that in Paraguay, where people consume stevia leaves on a daily basis, family sizes in the double digits don’t seem to support the fact that stevia could be a contraceptive. It also cites a few studies that found no link.

Many sources say there is no harm in stevia, but large doses in animals has been linked to “interference of carbohydrate absorption, metabolism disruption, reduced sperm production and conversion to mutagenic compounds.” Um. Blah. We don’t know if any of that happens in humans, of course, and is a “large dose” beyond anything one could consume, or is it similar to what I’d experience if I switched all my sweeteners to stevia? (source)

There has been some concern about minor GI effects, headaches and dizziness with Stevia. In addition, some studies have commented about purity and toxicity concerns. Mixing Stevia with sugar alcohols may have a laxative effect. Pregnant women, diabetics and those with high blood pressure should avoid using Stevia due to possible side effects.  (source)

Since stevia has been used regularly as a sweetener in Japan for 40 years and commandeers 40% of the sweetener consumption there, I think we can watch their experience to determine possible health risks. So far, nothing has come of it negatively.

The last downside is certainly the cost – you’re definitely going to pay more to make lemonade with stevia than with white sugar, and perhaps even more compared to sucanat.

Tomorrow I’ll share an interview with Jim May of SweetLeaf, who calls himself the “father of stevia.” You’ll love the juicy political controversy!

Read all the Sweet, Sweet Summer postings for more on alternative sweeteners.

Sources for this post include: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and those referenced within the text

Do you use stevia? Why or why not?

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Disclosure: Amazon links earn a small commission. I received products for my review from SweetLeaf and NuNaturals. I am an affiliate of Mountain Rose Herbs.  See my full disclosure statement here.

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103 Comments so far ↓

  • via Facebook

    Best part is we can grow it ourselves. Talk about frugal:)

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Beth via Facebook

    Stevia the plant is wonderful. Stevia the white powder or liquid… not so clear about those. My integrative health practitioners say it’s iffy because it’s run through mercury during processing and their best advice is “just use a little honey”.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Valiegal via Facebook

    I use it all the time!

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Kinda Crunchy Kate

    I’ve been waiting for this post in your series for a while! I use the powdered form of stevia in my tea every morning (I’m used to the aftertaste now), and I’d noticed the additives in the stevia I find at the store. I’m so glad to find one without that! Question for you: How much of the liquid does it take to sweeten a cup of coffee or tea? Are we talking a couple of drops or a teaspoon? I’m trying to figure out which option (the powder or the liquid form) would be most cost effective. Thanks!!

    [Reply to this comment]

    Heather Reply:

    Drops! Like about 2 drops. I use liquid stevia at home & keep packets (usually Trader Joe’s brand) in my purse for eating out. 1 dropperful of liquid sweetens a whole gallon of iced tea.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Kinda Crunchy Kate Reply:

    Thanks! I just bought some!

    [Reply to this comment]

  • shannon

    Hi Katie. I too am glad you’re chiming in on Stevia as we have been using it to sweeten kefir and herbal tea. I love using the liquid flavored stevia with another drop of real vanilla extract in kefir. So simple and very good. Do you know anything about the additives in the flavored liquid ones? I think we too use the Sweet Leaf brand.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Shannon,
    I checked my bottle and it just says “natural flavorings” which is not so clear, but I did interview the president of Sweetleaf and felt like I could trust his natural-mindedness… hope that helps! :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Lynn

    A friend of mine researched this subject and she told me that the powdered stevia has MSG in it. The only one that doesn’t is the liquid stevia. MSG and artificial sweeteners give me headaches, so I stay away from the powdered stevia and artificial sweeteners.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Lynn,
    I don’t think all the powders have MSG, but the big brands might. The liquid is my choice anyway… :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Katie

    Find me a good source for a great plant to grow in my own home and I’ll call you my hero.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Laurie N Reply:

    Katie, they sell stevia seeds at Pinetree Garden Seeds (https://www.superseeds.com/details.php?id=535). I have a rather large couple of plants growing in my greenhouse right now that I overwintered from last year. (They are now about 1 1/2 years old.) I’m planning to cut them back severely when I have to bring them in the house proper, and dry the trimmings. I started them from seed myself.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Heather Reply:

    Just about anywhere that sells herb plants will have stevia plants these days. Even Wal-Mart.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Dusti Rae Reply:

    I purchased some seeds in the spring from Baker Creek (www.rareseeds.com). The price was decent and they are all heirloom and organic seeds. I have two good sized plants that survived my neglect this summer! (One not so lucky! ;P) I haven’t noticed any aftertaste from the leaves…

    [Reply to this comment]

    cindi Reply:

    I bought 2 plants from the Michican Bulb Company and they are about 4 months old and are growing great! I have them in large planters and they have filled out a lot and I have cut them and hung them to dry, then I chop the leaves up in my coffee grinder. They are sweet and cost so much less than buying from the grocery. I found them on sale through amazon, and they were only about 3 dollars per plant.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Lauralee via Facebook

    I know stevia the plant is good, but when they process it into a powder, I wonder how *safe* that is….

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Michelle via Facebook

    I’m with Lauralee. I’ve been trying to make my own extract using dried Stevia leaves, but haven’t come up with anything that tastes good. I have been using Stevia for nearly 12 years. The brand I like the most is Stevita. Every once in a while, someone will mention that they heard negative things about it and I re-research it. The only negative thing I found several years ago was that it made some male rats impotent when they gave them an insane amount of it. Well, I’ve had 3 more pregnancies since I started using it, so I don’t think this is really an issue.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Cheryl Reply:

    LOL! I can see it now — Men taking their daily “pill” instead of women. :)

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Luanne

    Here’s my thing…why do we need to sweeten everything?? I won’t ever use it. Your post actually sealed it for me. You obviously did a lot of reading and research on it (great job!) and here’s what stuck out for me…in your list of benefits, none were exact facts…”it may do this…it may do that” To me these vague benefits are still assumptions. Not fact. And that’s not not enough for me to treat it as a medicinal benefit. Also, if you are choosing not to feed it to your daughter for fear it might influence her reproduction down the road is a huge warning sign to me that even after all the research, you still aren’t sure. So if it’s not ok for her, than why is it ok for us as adults? Here’s how I work when it comes to food. If it interferes with God and creation, do not eat. And we all know that eating too many sweets is.not.good. So why do we keep trying to skirt around it and find things that are acceptable? Strawberries don’t need sweetener. They’re sweet already. Right? Why be gluttonous and add more? Sugar is ok in moderation. Why not just accept that and use it when you need it (like in baking) and move on. I always feel like if I’m trying to substitute something that isn’t good for me with something else that is somewhat similar, it’s not better…it’s just scooching in the wrong direction instead of just sliding right down the hill…
    Good info, Katie!

    [Reply to this comment]

    Marcia Van Drunen Reply:

    For medical reasons I and others need to avoid sugar. In all amounts. But it sure is nice to sweeten things a little just like other normal (and even health and wholefoods and realfoods-conscious people). I do use honey, but sometimes that’s not the best option. I also have maple syrup. And then there’s just enjoying the sweetness in nature, particularly when cooked (I cook fruits together, no extra sugar, to use on my morning cooked cereal). And it’s still plant based like the sugar you’re suggesting: it’s had a politically-motivated restricted development and use in our country, which is not the same as just looking for something new and similar to do what sugar did. It’s not new in other countries! Anyways, I don’t feel a guilt trip is necessary when switching to a product that is conscientiously produced (choose a good brand, as Katie suggests) from a God-given plant.
    Like you, I’m grateful for Katie’s research and sharing of her work!

    [Reply to this comment]

    Tonya Reply:

    Going off what you said, Luanne, “in your list of benefits, none were exact facts…’it may do this…it may do that.’”

    why should stevia be given the benefit of the doubt vs. other sweeteners, or vs. other conventional products/methods for that matter?

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Tonya,
    The thing with health benefits and sweeteners is that most people don’t choose a sweet for its health benefits…if there are any, they’re just a bonus and have to be balanced with the impact of said sweetener on blood sugar and calories.

    Stevia has 100% chance of (a) sweetening your food and (b) having zero calories/blood sugar impact, so…as a sweetener goes, as long as its risks aren’t nasty, then it’s a winner. Plus, it comes from a plant, so it’s got a great lead on things like artificial sweeteners from the get-go.

    Did that answer your question? thanks! :) katie

    [Reply to this comment]

    penny Reply:

    Katie
    I agree with you.
    Why is everyone out to find something better then the natural thing, Pure Sugar?
    Most people do not realize that if the package says diet, it is telling you that you will in fact gain weight. I for one when I need to gain weight I will pick up a diet product and problem solved. Stevia sounded good until you say they add natural ingredients. Oil and gas are natural. So until they put on the package just what those ingredients are Thanks but No Thanks

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Susan

    Thank you for researching this! We’ve been growing a Stevia plant all summer, but don’t know exactly what to do with it. Any tips? Also, which liquid brand do you prefer? I have been wanting to try a liquid, but there are many out there and I don’t want to end up with a dud. Thanks again!

    [Reply to this comment]

    Heather Reply:

    NOW brand is fine & reasonably priced. I bought a bunch of stevia liquid on ebay direct from Paraguay a long time ago (we’re still using it), and it’s fine, too. Often, the bitter aftertaste just means you’ve used too much stevia, so try using less next time.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Kelly Reply:

    I love the Sweet Leaf brand liquids. They also have flavored options for the liquids. The vanilla creme and hazelnut flavors are great! They also have things like chocolate, orange, peppermint. I buy them through amazon. They are expensive, but since you only use a couple of drops at a time, they last forever.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Susan,
    Check the comments here and at the next post: http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/2011/09/23/falling-from-a-sweet-sweet-summer-an-interview-with-jim-may-father-of-stevia/
    http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/2011/09/23/falling-from-a-sweet-sweet-summer-an-interview-with-jim-may-father-of-stevia/
    to find out what others do with the leaves. Tea is the only thing I know of, but there are more.

    NuNaturals and Sweetleaf liquids are both good, and lots of commenters like Kal brand. I think with the liquid, it’s hard to go wrong as long as the ingredients aren’t long or synthetic. :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • via Facebook

    Beth/Lauralee/Michelle – the post covers many of your questions. Basically, some stevia powders are highly processed with chemicals and have weird additives. Some aren’t.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Peggy

    I’ve been growing stevia this year. All summer I’ve been snipping off a leaf, bruising it, and steeping it in my cup of morning tea. It’s just the perfect bit of sweetness.

    After first frost (which will sweeten it even more) I’ll cut the entire plant back to about 4 inches tall and bring it indoors for the winter. I’ll hang the cut branches upside down (like you would lavender or mint) and dry them. Once dry, I’ll strip the leaves and put them in a canning jar. All winter they will be available to crush and drop into whatever needs sweetening.

    I don’t use stevia in baking because I’ve had unreliable results. But for beverages or dishes on the stove that need just a little sweet balance, it’s terrific.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Peggy via Facebook

    Tried to post comment on website, looks like it might be down. Here’s the comment: I’ve been growing stevia this year. All summer I’ve been snipping off a leaf, bruising it, and steeping it in my cup of morning tea. It’s just the perfect bit of sweetness.

    After first frost (which will sweeten it even more) I’ll cut the entire plant back to about 4 inches tall and bring it indoors for the winter. I’ll hang the cut branches upside down (like you would lavender or mint) and dry them. Once dry, I’ll strip the leaves and put them in a canning jar. All winter they will be available to crush and drop into whatever needs sweetening.

    I don’t use stevia in baking because I’ve had unreliable results. But for beverages or dishes on the stove that need just a little sweet balance, it’s terrific.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • JaimeB

    I love SweetLeaf liquid stevia in my coffee. I have not tried a stevia powder and I choose to stay away from Truvia as I have read several articles on it just being another artificial sweetener as it does not use the whole plant and the effect on health is not known. I have also read of adverse reactions to ingesting it, so it seems not to be the safest choice.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Brittany @ The Pistachio Project

    I use stevia all the time! Mainly for my tea (I drink TONS of tea) but it’s great for other cooked items as well (not so much the baking as you mentioned)

    I am currently using KAL stevia (white powder) as it was recommended to me for having “no” aftertaste (although you will obviously have some sort of taste with powdered stevia) Have you reasearched KAL at all? I’m curious as to how it compares to SweetLeaf. I’ll have to try SL next time I’m out.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Kassia via Facebook

    The post mentions that just using the dried leaves can leave a bitter taste. We get stevia occasionally in our co-op box. What’s the best way to make it usable? I’d love it in an extract form to use in tea.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Sarah

    Katie, I was just wondering about stevia and diabetics. At the beginning of your article you mentioned that you would recommend it to them, but then at the end you quoted a source as not recommending it to diabetics. I was wondering if you could elaborate on why you feel good suggesting its use for diabetics. My father is borderline diabetic and I would love to be able to recommend a sweetener he could safely use on a limited basis. Also wondering if you are planning on doing a post on coconut sugar. Thanks for all your amazing research!

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Sarah,
    That reference at the end was only one source; most of the rest recommend it heartily for diabetics. I believe stevia (properly processed) is safe to use, and since it doesn’t mess with glucose levels or impart calories, it’s the perfect sweetener option for diabetics, who shouldn’t have sugar, and I don’t want them using artificial chemical sweeteners. Honey and maple syrup are recommended by some for diabetics, but because they still raise blood sugar, they’re really not a good idea in the long run. Stevia is, in my opinion, a great choice.

    Coconut sugar – yes! Messing around with a sample this month! :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

    Marcia Van Drunen Reply:

    Hoping you post on coconut sugar. That’s something I was also wondering about :)

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Yep, it’s coming!

    [Reply to this comment]

  • pamela

    I highly recommend Navitas Naturals brand raw stevia powder. I was looking for the most unprocessed stevia I could find, and when I use this, there is no bitter aftertaste. I truly enjoy it.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Heather

    If you buy stevia extract in bulk (extracts don’t go bad, and yes, the process is like making vanilla or any medicinal tincture), the price can get much lower. Even an 8 oz bottle is about $10 and lasts a year or more, even though I use it in my iced tea, which is what I usually drink. 1 dropperfull is enough for a gallon of tea. Lemonade takes several dropperfulls, but, if anything, stevia is _better_ in lemonade than sugar!
    I looked at the research about fertility in rodents, and they were using HUGE doses–the rats were getting more per day than a person would use, even without equating dosage to size. Personally, I use stevia daily, and have for a number of years and through 3 pregnancies. It definitely isn’t contraceptive for me! My kids don’t have very much, but I don’t worry about it when they do.
    Stevita makes a stevia “kool-aid” mix that I wouldn’t have us using daily, but we feel is okay for an occasional treat.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Heather

    Truvia has msg. Most powdered stevias do not. As usual, if it comes from a Big Food company, be suspicious. As with Truvia.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Kate @ Modern Alternative Mama

    I don’t like it so I don’t use it. I have tried the SweetLeaf brand several times and think it has an aftertaste. I will use it if the other options are white sugar and artificial sweeteners; I think it is better than those! I have never baked with it and probably never will.

    All that said…I got some green, unrefined stevia and gave it to my dad. He is trying to kick years of aspartame habit and is still worried about sugar and calories. He’s replacing diet pop with stevia-sweetened iced tea. So, this is a major step in the right direction, and I will overlook any personal preferences or whatever because he is making a better choice now. :)

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Kate @ Modern Alternative Mama

    Oh right — my dad tried some stevia with inulin and noted stomach discomfort with this, which does not happen with other forms of stevia. I would be very wary of any baking mix that relied on this.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Heather Anderson

    I have mostly used the liquid. I did have to get used to the taste a little but it wasn’t bad. Only recently have I tried the powder just because I could by a small box for only a few dollars. I will probably go back to the liquid. My mom has grown a couple of stevia plants with great results. I hope to try doing that as well.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Andy

    I’ve been using the KAL brand of pure stevia powder daily for more than two years now and I can honestly say I haven’t tasted any nasty after-tastes. It’s a bit expensive ($20 or so for 3.5 oz), but it takes so little to sweeten anything that the container lasts a long time before needing to replace.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • My-Home-Remedies.com

    Great article. I’ve just been doing a lot of research lately into Stevia and using it as a sweetener. I just ordered some and excited to try it out. As far as its safety goes, I think with anything, moderation is the key.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Cheryl

    Many online dictionaries give the pronunciation of stevia with a long e. Here is Mirriam-Webster’s http://www.merriam-webster.com/cgi-bin/audio.pl?stevi01m=stevia

    Anyway, I have loved stevia for year! I would have it in my garden next to some chocolate mint and my kids would be in it daily taking a leaf of both and eating it — so yummy!

    I currently use the dry leaf, but don’t have good results with baking or cooking with it, but with liquids, it is awesome. I use the refined powder sparingly because it is refined. I feel that the process can leave the whole product out of balance and may in the long run be unhealthy for us. The amount that we use isn’t much, but still…

    You have to watch your stevia brands. Many that taste better are mixed with other types of sugars, many ending with “-ose”, which aren’t a healthy choice. Typically, the pure stevioside brands do have a bitter after-taste when you’ve over-used it.

    Oh, I love to use it in my homemade tooth powder/paste, too! It really adds to the enjoyment for the kids.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Amy P. Reply:

    Actually, if we use the Spanish pronounciation, the “e” is pronounced as a “long a” as in “name.” So you would say “stay-vee-uh.”

    Also, I’ve been using the dried leaf in our kefir smoothies instead of sugar or honey. Just right!

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Ricki

    I started using stevia out of necessity, and now it is by far my favorite (and most used) sweetener. Studies have also shown that it helps to prevent dental caries (cavities). And the 40+ year history in Japan is also a good example. I tend to use the liquid in 90% of what I make (and I have managed some muffins that came out great with it), and the powder more sparingly. . . though I don’t find that the Nunaturals powder has any aftertaste. Or maybe I’m just so used to it by now! ;)

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Kelly

    I use the Sweet Leaf brand as well. I really like their flavored liquids. I have had success making cheesecakes and fruit based things like pies and cobblers. I’ve also been making my canned jams with stevia for the last few years, and they taste so much better than the full sugar varieties! More of the natural fruit taste shines through. They do still need a little sugar (about 1c per batch), or it doesn’t seem to gel right, but that sure beats on the 7 or so cups of sugar in a normal jam recipe!

    [Reply to this comment]

    Marie Benware Reply:

    Kelly~What wonderful ideas! I make all the things you mentioned and just started canning last fall for the first time and was surprised how much sugar was needed in the preserves recipes. . Would you be willing to share how much of the liquid you use to replace 1 cup of sugar? I don’t want to ruin a batch by guessing. Thanks!

    [Reply to this comment]

    Kelly Reply:

    In a jam recipe with about 5 cups of fruit, I use about 1 cup of sugar and between 3/4 and 1 tsp of liquid stevia (I use Sweet Leaf brand). A normal jam recipe has up to 7 or 8 cups of sugar. I have recipes for several low sugar jam varieties on my blog:
    http://noemptychairs.me/recipes/canning-and-preserving-recipes/

    [Reply to this comment]

    Marie Benware Reply:

    Thanks for your help and your link! I will check it out.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • via Facebook

    Kassia, I don’t have any personal experience with the leaves, but I do know the South Americans simply use the leaves in tea (dried). I would just try a leaf (or half a leaf) in the tea while steeping and see how it is.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • via Facebook

    I grew it for the first time this year…and was just reminded what that mystery plant is. I’m not sure yet how to use it from the plant form….but I’ll be experimenting for sure.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Trisha via Facebook

    I have used the dried leaf in my tea and it does leave a little bit of an after taste. I am going to get some of the (expensive) liquid and see if that will las me long enough to justify the cost. Also, I wonder if we can just make our own tincture with either alcohol or glycerin. Something to try anyway….unfortunately my plant died :(

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Hayley

    I would like to point out that vanilla extract is extracted in ethanol. Vodka is ethanol. Ethanol, while not exactly great for you, is considered edible. Methanol, not so much. But probably almost all of it evaporates out during the drying process anyway.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Kathryn

    I’ve been using stevia for several years now, off and on. Right now i’m mostly using it for sweetening my tea or plain yogurt. I’m trying to do a no sugar/very low sugar diet, but i still like sweets!

    I have the Sweetleaf powder, and it is okay, but i like the KAL brand liquid the best. It doesn’t seem to have the aftertaste that so many other brands have (tho if you use too much, any brand is going to taste bad; err on the side of undersweetening – it is easier to add more than to thin it out). I LOVE the KAL brand vanilla stevia. But it wasn’t available recently, and i tried the NuNaturals brand vanilla. Did. Not. Like. It. At. All.

    I’ve not managed to utilize stevia in baking much, except to reduce the amount of sugar and add a small amount of stevia. It has worked in my flourless peanut butter cookies (i eat gluten free). Yesterday i made pumpkin custard (the pumpkin pie without a crust) and used the NuNaturals vanilla stevia only for my sweetener. It turned out great. Even my hubby (for whom i had made a regular pumpkin pie as well) thought it was great. So i’m going to be able to use up the stuff i didn’t care for very much with some careful baking this fall.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Kathryn,
    I’ve sweetened a custard with only stevia too – a good place to not need the granulated stuff.

    It’s so funny how different brands strike different people – like I said in the post, my DH likes Nu Naturals much better (even the powder), but I prefer Sweetleaf. I need to try Kal now… :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Kathryn

    Oh, i forgot to mention – i’ve tried several times to grow stevia. It doesn’t do well in our cold climate, even in my kitchen window.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • krisha

    Does anyone have a good recipe for liquid stevia? I tried what seems to be the poplular recipe on the Internet (soak in vodka or grain alchohol for 36 hrs) and was not happy with this at all. It wasn’t sweet enough and has a funky taste. It was also very hard to cook the alchohol out. Not sure if I got it all out…

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Rox

    Some of those stevia side effects sound a lot like sugar withdrawals. Just a thought.
    Thanks for doing all the hard research for us =)

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Holly

    Using stevia would still break the subconcious connection between sweetness and high calorie food. Several studies have now shown that rats who were used to artificial sweetners did not respond to high calorie food the same way as though the body just learned to ignore those signals. As a result, those rats consumed more calories and gained weight. I would think that would still happen with stevia. If someone is diabetic, then I can see using this product, but not as a means to cut sugar. I’m not sure why we are so scared of sugar–it’s 15 calories a teaspoon. A teaspoon or 2 in your coffee is not the sugar we should be concerned with, nor is the occasional baked good. It’s all the sugar we consume without knowing from processed food. The other point I wanted to make is regarding Japan using the sweetners for 40 years. We’ve used nutrasweet in this country for almost as long and while there is plenty of anecdotal evidence not to use it, there are plenty of people who’ve been using it all this time and insist they are fine. The Internet is has plenty of anecdotal evidence against stevia as well. I don’t trust it.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Holly,
    Thanks so much for your comment! I’m so sorry it took me so long to respond…I got absolutely behind on comments when I released the second edition of the snacks book and truly have never caught up.

    I answered a similar comment just below this to Jonathan; please read it and see what you think (I wish it was an answer, but it’s just more information).

    Excellent point about 40 years being NOT long at all! Stevia has been used for 1000s of years in S. America, but as a leaf, not a liquid or white powder, so I hear you, for sure.

    What anecdotal evidence do you hear? The only problem I often see is that it may be contraceptive. ???

    And yes, a teaspoon or two is probably not where we find the sugar problem in our nation….

    Thanks again for challenging me; I’m always learning! There’s a reason I left sweeteners alone for 2.5 years of blogging! :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

    Holly Reply:

    I’ve thought about it more and I’ve softened my stance on stevia. I am glad it’s made from a leaf. A lot of the side effects I’d seen reported were in conjunction with Truvia which isn’t just stevia. Mostly abdominal effects, but also some people reported a mental fogginess and shoulder and neck pain. Personally I am distrustful of artificial sweeteners because aspartame triggers severe migraines. Since then I’ve come to believe that if you want sugar, have sugar, if you want butter, have real butter, eat real food! Just keep it in moderation. Of course that was before I knew that most sugar comes from GMO sugar beets, so maybe you just can’t win after all. I really appreciate this blog, it is so thought provoking and has made me think even more deeply about food than I did before. Thanks!

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Jonathan

    I’m still curious how something zero-calorie and sweet can be good for you when used on a regular basis. In your posts on sugar alcohols and artificial sweeteners, you mentioned the problem that any sweet taste causes your body to expect sugar and to prepare to digest it. When no calories come, it messes with your body’s natural feedback, and causes, among other things, weight gain.

    From your sugar alcohol post:

    “From a podcast by Pharmacist Ben (Ben Fuchs): xylitol will not touch insulin levels (although recent literature suggests that just the sweet taste of something may raise insulin).”

    From your artificial sweeteners post:

    “Many people drink diet sodas (almost always sweetened with aspartame) to lose weight or stay thin – unfortunately, whenever our bodies eat something sweet, our brains expect calories to follow, AND we crave more sweets. Artificial sweeteners may damage the body chemistry, leading to weight gain, and they definitely increase cravings for sweets, causing many people to overindulge.”

    “The body is unable to break it [Acesulfame potassium] down, so it passes through undigested. This may interfere with general metabolism. Linked to breast and lung cancer, reactive hypoglycemia, but studies questioned.
    As with other artificial sweeteners, Ace K can cause an increased craving for sweets.”

    In my opinion, this is a very good reason not to eat artificial sweeteners. Stevia seems to have been exempted from this, but I have seen no convincing reason (no discussion of the issue at all, really) why stevia should not have the same problem as artificial sweeteners. As an edible plant, it will certainly be miles better than an artificially synthesized neurotoxin, true. That doesn’t mean it’s safe, though.

    Can you shed any light on this issue? It seems to be a gaping hole in most looks at stevia.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Jonathan,
    First, So sorry it took me so long to respond…I got absolutely behind on comments when I released the second edition of the snacks book and truly have never caught up.

    Second, I applaud you. You’ve used my own words against me, in a way, but well done! ;) You’re absolutely right, most people don’t talk about this issue when they talk about stevia. Perhaps everyone secretly just wants one sweetener to be perfectly okay, because sweets are just so good.

    I did ask Jim May, CeO of Sweetleaf stevia, about the way a sweet taste reacts in the body and causes one to want more, and he claimed that stevia did not have the effect. I didn’t even mention in my post, I don’t think, because it was not very helpful or documented.

    Andy Bellati is the source of the idea that we all need to train our palates to enjoy less sweetness, period, so I looked up what he says about stevia – http://www.eatingrules.com/2011/10/stevia/ – he doesn’t necessarily directly address whether it’s harmful to have stevia in its pure form, either.

    Ben Fuchs says in the same podcast about stevia:
    “Pure stevia is 100% natural and 100% safe!
    Has been used 100s if not 1000s of years.
    The extracts have only been around for a few, not enough for good research.” I emailed him with questions, but he didn’t reply.

    So, hmmmm. How do we plug this hole? Perhaps we can’t, and we are just supposed to have no sweets but fruity sweets. That would be a bummer…

    What do you propose? ;) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

    Jonathan Reply:

    Whoops, I guess I’m behind things, too!

    Anyway, it seems to me that the main problem is the American addiction to sweet things. I would advocate, as you mentioned, weaning ourselves of sweets (not entirely, but certainly scaling back). Homemade yogurt, for instance, doesn’t need sweetener. It’s a little odd to eat it plain at first, but I got used to it fairly quickly once I switched over (And then there’s the wondrous flavor and aroma of warm, freshly-made yogurt!). There are a lot of foods like this that are perfectly fine without sweetener, as long as we are not expecting them to be sweet.

    Now if we do use stevia, I would tend to suspect that it would be better to use it along with other calorically normal sweeteners, and to use it fairly infrequently. Also, there will be “foods” that we may simply have to do without. Caramel, for instance. Who came up with partially burnt sugar, anyway? Granted, I don’t like caramel, so I have an easy time mocking it…. ;)

    I also believe that the real food movement and other related movements require a large, and often painful, paradigm shift. The culture’s desires for instant gratification and conformity are very difficult to break, even in these reform movements. I believe, though, that they must be broken if we are to be successful. In saying this, I am not trying to criticize or boast, but simply to present what I believe to be true. For example, you are not depriving your children by keeping them from watching TV or eating excessive artificial food colorings. You are not depriving yourself or your husband by using natural family planning. In the present, all of these require sacrifice, but in the long run, the benefits are worth the cost. From my own life, I can report that my family never had a TV that was hooked up for anything other than occasional watching of videos (with one brief exception that I remember). My mother was also fairly careful about the food she fed us (I got candy through other means, but I hoarded most of it, such that I now have lots of candy which I will probably never eat. Oh, well.). Looking back on this, I can say with all honesty that I do not regret any of it. This is especially noteworthy because I am still in that age group that is most commonly known for rebellion against authority. But, then, I already knew I was strange.

    Well, that’s my rambling about (more or less) the subject. If any of this seems preachy, I am sorry.

    Peace be with you,
    Jonathan

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Well, I think you’re just wonderful, Jonathan, and I hope some young woman in your age group does, too! ;) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Link Likes 3.31.12 « I'm New Here

    [...] is fun. It just is. @ Relevant    Release the hounds, er, children! @ Playborhood   What’s the deal with stevia? (read this in your best Jerry Seinfeld voice) @ Kitchen Stewardship   Do this today and change [...]

  • Meredith

    I can’t say enough how much I love your site! It’s quickly becoming my go to for detailed but easy to understand information on this quest for healthy living :) Thanks for your work!

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Bonnie

    I use Stevia (the white powder) in cooking and baking all the time. If it calls for a cup of sugar I use about 1/8th cup of sugar and mix in the stevia to use in pies, rhubard compote, apple crisps and things like that. I think I’ve used it in muffins but I can’t remember. I found a recipe for making stevia liquid from the plant, but can`t find it. I`m sure if you google it you can find it. I plan to do that this year.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Clifton J Showell

    Real food have save my life and yes pure stevia is better for you than sugar. the key is less toxin and artificially you put in body the better you well feel with less side effects.I’m growing my only stevia plants now.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Stevia Recipes and How to Use Stevia

    [...] popping up in stores everywhere, but not all of them are created equal. Real Food Forager and Kitchen Stewardship both have done a lot of research about stevia and have written great posts about the different [...]

  • Charlemagne Prokopyshyn

    I tested stevia and have to say I’m not a fan as the taste is too bitter but maybe it isn’t all bad? I think more research over a longer period of time is needed anyhow to really see the benefits and dangers. Interesting comments though from everyone. In Germany and the UK Stevia is very new to us, only was legally allowed in our countries dec 2011 so we’re being quite cautious about it. Plus there is only one powdered brand type at the moment and no liquid form unless we import it from America. http://pudding-girl.de/about-stevia/

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Aggie Villanueva

    You said you wanted to try the new stevia powder with inulin as filler.

    I tried Vitacost Stevia Plus with Frutafit® Inulin Fiber as a filler. But even using it as 1/3 to every 1 cup sugar, it has a horrible bitter taste.

    So far I’ve found that anytime i use Stevie white powder in any recipe it ruins it with that bitterness. I have not tried the green powder yet, which I’ve heard may not have the bitter aftertaste as the chemically extracted white powder.

    But I love it with just a bit added to each cup of tea, one by one. I just can’t get it to work in large quantities such as would be used in a hot chocolate mix where you just add hot water. Or making pancake syrup. I had to throw both out.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Aggie,
    I haven’t had any luck with white powders, either, especially the ones that have “filler” to make it bulk up like sugar. Blech. I do like the liquid drops, but obviously those can’t be used for baking. :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

    Aggie Villanueva Reply:

    Katie,

    I tried the green stevia because I do want an unprocessed product. But it arrived yesterday and it tastes like grass. Sweet grass, but nonetheless grass. I won’t be using this for anything unless I can find suggestions by anyone!

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Aggie,
    Don’t eat it plain – try steeping it right with your tea. :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

    Aggie Villanueva Reply:

    I make my tea in one of those electric ice tea brewers. I think I could just put the green powder stevia right in with the tea leaves/bags. Does this steeping get rid of all of that grassy flavor or partial? I’m going to try this soon. Thankx so much for your tips! Have the best day ever.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Aggie,
    I didn’t notice a grassy taste…I used some from Mountain Rose Herbs, I think. :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

    Kathryn Reply:

    I’ve not tried it yet myself, but i’m wondering if we can’t make an extract with the leaves in alcohol like you can make vanilla extract? I’ll have to give that a try next year when i grow stevia, again.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Kathryn,
    Yes – here’s a tutorial: http://www.commonsensehome.com/stevia-grow-your-own-sweetener/#
    :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Summer Bowen

    I’ve heard of this sweetener from my cousin who is diabetic. I haven’t tried it but I am interested in alternative sweeteners because I want to reduce my sugar intake.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Healthier Treats – Muddy Buddies and No-Bake Cookies | Who's running this place anyway?

    [...] series (She has AMAZING series from fats, to grains, to kitchen organization,) including discussing different brands of Stevia.  Seriously – check out her blog, and you will have enough reading material to click from [...]

  • Jessica

    Just wanted to mention for anyone interested in baking with stevia that Katie at chocolatecoveredkatie.com creates her own healthy dessert recipes and often uses stevia, both liquid and powder. Her recipes are still desserts so it’s important to keep that in mind but she is a great resource for better dessert options and she often provides single serving or small portion recipes- great for sweets in moderation!

    [Reply to this comment]

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Welcome!  Meet Katie.

I embrace butter. I make homemade yogurt. I eat traditional real food – plants and animals that God created, not products of plants where food scientists work. Here at Kitchen Stewardship, I share how I strive to be a good steward of my family's nutrition, the environment, and our budget, all without spending every second in the kitchen. Learn more about the mission of KS here.

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