In recent years there has been significant attention given to the use of the term “natural” to describe food products and food ingredients. Around the world, there is no one definition for natural, and in many cases, there is simply no approved definition for the term despite increased interest. For these reasons, we prefer to refer to stevia as a plant-based, natural origin sweetener, or simply naturally sourced.
Beyond the descriptive terms, a key fact is that the high purity stevia extracts found in end food and beverage products are moleculary identical to the sweet compound found in the original stevia leaf. In other words, high purity stevia extracts are not changed moleculary during processing. The extraction and purification process gives purified stevia leaf extract a cleaner, more sugar-like taste and it is also necessary to move from the crude to purified form in order to meet the conditions approved for use. The purpose of this processing is quite simply to extract and purify the natural steviol glycosides from the plant’s leaves.
Globally, there are varying levels of proposed changes to include “added sugars” on the food or beverage label. Given stevia does not contribute carbohydrate, fiber or sugar calories and given it often replaces some portion of sweeteners in a product, stevia could help lower the total “added sugars” in a product depending on the formulation.
Labeling around the world
Around the world, you may see stevia listed differently due to regulations from country to county. This is because different countries have their own established food policies on stevia and labeling policies vary from country to country.
On various global nutrition labels, you will not see stevia listed since it is zero calories and is not listed as a carbohydrate, fiber or added sugar for instance. However, you will see the benefits it provides through the reduction in overall calories per serving, and/or in the reduction of grams of “added sugars” if that is listed on the nutrition label. The exact list of nutrients included and how they are spelled out on labels does vary country by country and in many countries, changes are underway to the nutrition labeling framework too.
In the ingredient statement you will see stevia called out. Ingredients are always listed in descending order by weight, from most to least. Due to different regulations in each country, ingredients sometimes go by different names. For this reason, you may see stevia listed in the ingredient statement in these ways:
- Stevia extract
- Stevia leaf extract
- Steviol glycosides
- Rebaudioside A (Reb A)
This list will continue to grow as different types of stevia leaf extract are approved.