Stevia is a plant native to South America. It is part of the sunflower family and its leaves are naturally sweet. In fact, the indigenous people used to chew them for their sweet taste and use them to naturally sweeten beverages.
As a product of nature, the stevia plant is actually quite complex. Its leaves contain different sweet tasting components, scientifically called steviol glycosides. There are many different kinds of steviol glycosides, but 11 of them are most abundant in a typical leaf. Each of these steviol glycosides has its own unique taste profile and sweetness intensity and each can be anywhere from 200 to 350 times sweeter than sugar – but all without the calories.
To release the sweetness, the steviol glycosides are extracted and purified like other ingredients you may commonly use, such as cane sugar or natural vanilla extract. At the end of the process, the sweet components are the exact same compounds as the ones originally found in the leaf.
This process produces highly purified stevia leaf extract, which is what is approved by major regulatory bodies for use in foods and beverages around the world. Crude stevia extracts or whole stevia plant leaves are often sold as dietary supplements in some countries, but it is important to note that only high purity stevia leaf extract has been evaluated and approved for use as an ingredient in food and beverages by the world’s major regulatory agencies. Throughout this website, we will refer to high purity stevia leaf extract simply as stevia.
More and more food and beverage companies are using stevia to help create great tasting food and beverage products with fewer total calories. As a result, you may see a reduction in the total calories per serving. On the ingredient label, you may see stevia listed in different ways: stevia, stevia extract, Rebaudioside A, Reb A, steviol glycosides and other variations depending on the country and the manufacturer.
You will find stevia in more than 5000 foods and beverages around the globe today, including soft drinks, juices, waters, flavored milks, yogurts, baked goods, cereals, salad dressings, sauces, confections, tabletop sweeteners and more.
This powerful combination of a zero calorie sweetener with a plant-based origin, makes stevia distinct in the food and beverage world.
Stevia has been approved by multiple regulatory bodies around the globe beginning in 2008 as an ingredient, but the stevia plant itself was actually discovered more than 200 years ago in South America.
Traditionally, indigenous people added dried stevia leaves to sweeten yerba mate (a traditional drink), teas and medicine. The leaves were sometimes chewed for their sweet taste, too.
Since then, stevia has undergone a remarkable journey through the world of science and regulation to make its way into everyday food and beverage products that you can enjoy today.