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Sweet Stevia (page 3 of 3)

by Kathy Bond Borie

Cooking with Stevia

One fresh stevia leaf is enough to sweeten a cup of tea or coffee or a glass of lemonade. Or add the leaves to baked beans, barbecue sauce, salad dressings, soups, and stews.

Unlike some other sugar substitutes, stevia is stable when heated, so the powder can be used in baking. However, this requires a willingness to experiment. Much less stevia powder is needed for the same level of sweetness provided by sugar, but sugar also adds volume, so liquid and dry ingredients will need to be adjusted. Estimates vary widely because of natural variation in the plant, but figure that between 1 teaspoon and 1 tablespoon of dried, ground stevia leaves equals about 1 cup of sugar.

A Sweetener and More

The Japanese have been using stevia to sweeten products since the 1970s, and plant extracts are now found in candy, ice cream, pickles, soft drinks, teas, and other foods. The herb also had great potential for use in this country a decade ago. Major food companies such as Thomas J. Lipton and Celestial Seasonings were developing products containing stevia. Those efforts screeched to a halt when the FDA temporarily banned the importation of stevia products in 1991.

Stevia is also purported to do more than sweeten foods. It's touted as helping to fight tooth decay and gum disease by inhibiting bacterial growth. It has been investigated as a blood sugar regulator for people with diabetes and hypoglycemia. Because stevia contains virtually no calories, it could have potential for use in weight-loss diets. However, none of these uses has been approved in the U.S., and controversy surrounds them as well as stevia's potential role as a sugar substitute.

More About Stevia

If you're interested in learning more about stevia and how to cook with it, check the following books and Web sites. Stevia is available in granular, powder, and liquid extract forms at health food stores.

Stevia: Naturally Sweet Recipes for Desserts, Drinks, and More by Rita Depuydt (Book Pub Co., 2002; $14.95). A book of recipes.

The Body Ecology Diet by Donna Gates and Linda Schatz (B.E.D. Publications, 2002; $24.95). A book of recipes.

Stevia: Nature's Sweetener by Rita Elkins (Woodland Publishing, 1997; $3.95). A book of recipes.

Stevia Rebaudiana: Nature's Sweet Secret by David Richard (Vital Health Publishing, 1999; $5.95). This book covers the history, botany, and safety concerns and offers recipes as well.

The Stevia Story: A Tale of Incredible Sweetness and Intrigue by Linda Bonvie, Bill Bonvie, and Donna Gates (B.E.D. Publications, 1996; $6.95). This is a well-researched history of stevia's uses and the controversies surrounding them. Also included are cultivation tips.

Stevia Sweet Recipes by Jeffrey Goettemoeller (Vital Health Publishing, 1999; $12.95). A book of recipes.

For good Web sites, try the following:
The Raintree Group, Inc.
Center for Science in the Public Interest
U.S. Army Department of Health Promotion and Wellness

Kathy Bond Borie is a Horticultural Editor for National Gardening Association.

Photography by John Goodman
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