Stevia has become the sweetener on everybody's lips – but why? Its leaves offer a sweetness that's 200 times sweeter than sugar - without any kilojoules.
While it may be unfamiliar to many of us, stevia has been harvested and used in recipes by indigenous people for more than 1500 years. The native peoples of Brazil and Paraguay called it ka'a he'ê, the "sweet herb", and used it in yerba mate tea, medicines and sweet treats.
Grown in South America and Asia, there are about 200 species of the stevia plant, with Stevia rebaudiana being the most sought-after variety. Its leaves contain compounds that provide the sweet taste humans love, with the bonus that it doesn't cause tooth decay!
Since stevia requires less water, energy and land than farming other kinds of sweetener crops, it doesn't compromise farmers' staple food crops such as cassava, beans or maize. Instead, it provides local primary producers with additional income and supports their traditional farming practices.
How can stevia be used?
Stevia is popular for cooking, baking and is already an ingredient in thousands of products around the world. Available in health food stores and supermarkets in liquid, powder, granule and tablet forms, stevia can be added to food in much the same way you would add sugar. But you won't need much! Stevia extract can be up to 200 times sweeter than sugar.
Is stevia right for you?
If you're looking for sugar alternatives to help with weight loss, managing blood sugar or for better health, stevia may be your new best friend. To find out if it's right for you, try it and see how your body responds.
While stevia is calorie-free and well-suited to sweetening smoothies, soft drinks, hot drinks, yoghurt and creamy desserts, it's not the perfect substitute for sugar in some recipes as it doesn't offer all the same functions as sugar when heated or combined with other ingredients. Many a creative cook has had fun reinventing their favourite treats, however, and currently there's lots of development and innovation on stevia to make it taste as similar to sugar as possible.
For something sweet without the kilojoules of sugar, try this divine banana bread made with stevia – it's good!
No added sugar stevia-sweetened banana bread
Makes 1 loaf
1 ½ cups ripe banana, mashed (approx.
3 medium bananas)
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 ½ cups plain flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp stevia powder
½ tsp salt
⅓ cup milk
½ cup walnuts, chopped
1 banana extra for decoration (optional)
1 tbsp warmed honey, to glaze
1 Preheat oven to 190°C. Grease an approx. 12x22cm loaf pan and line with baking paper so it overhangs on both sides.
2 In a large bowl, lightly whisk the eggs, then mix in the mashed bananas, oil and vanilla essence. Sift in the flour, baking soda, stevia powder and salt and stir, adding in the milk a little at a time until just combined.
3 Fold in the nuts and pour into the prepared tin, and level. To decorate, slice the remaining banana and arrange on top.
4 Bake in the preheated oven for 50-60 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
5 Cool in the tin for 5 minutes then
transfer to a cooling rack. Brush the top with warmed honey to glaze if desired.