Stevia sugar is obtained from Stevia rebaudiuna (leaf). It is almost 250 – 400 times sweeter than normal sugar. Raw stevia has a somewhat bitter or licorice-like aftertaste, although Rebaudioside A component has very little aftertaste. It has 0 calories and hence widely used as dietary supplement.
Stevia is used for a variety of research purposes. It has been found that stevia sugar contains a lot of antioxidants, and these antioxidants help in reducing the risk of pancreatic cancer by 23%.
It is commonly added in ice-creams, frozen products, beverages, nutritional blends etc,. Stevia is stable at high temperatures well over boiling point and in acidic foods. These properties make stevia easy to work with. Stevia comes in 2 forms:
- Natural dried green leaves and dark herbal extract of the leaves. These leaves are about 10 to 30 times sweeter than regular sugar.
- Pure stevioside extracts in the form of white powder or liquid is 200 to 300 times sweeter.
Some of stevioside powder sold in market is given a filler coating of fructooligosaccharide or maltodextrin.
The first step is to place the stevia leaves in hot water. It is then passed through a resin material which will trap and collect steviol glycosides. The resins are washed thoroughly with alcohol until they are free from glycosides. To obtain purified glycosides, the product undergoes recrystallization.
When one wants to prepare stevia sugar at home, soak the stevia leaves in alcohol for 24 hours. The alcohol is strained after 24 hours and then diluted more with water to taste. The mixture is the heated slowly until desired syrup consistency.
The sweet taste of stevia is not due to carbohydrate based molecules but due to several non-calorific glycosides in the molecules. Stevia is marketed as dietary supplement and for skin nourishing. It is economical as very less amount of stevia sugar can be used to achieve the same sweetness as that of regular sugar.
Stevia is said to lower hypertension, aids digestion, reduces stomach acidity, relieves nausea. Studies have also shown increase in mental acumen when stevia is consumed. Stevia inhibits the growth of bacteria that cause tooth decay and mouth odour. Stevia heals cut wounds rapidly and any mark or blemish on the skin, when stevia leaves are applied, is reduced.