Stevia – an zero calorie natural sweetener

Stee-what?? Until about 6 months ago, I’d never even heard of stevia. Now it’s so key to my cooking repertoire I’d be lost without it! My daughter calls it “that special sugar” – special indeed!

Stevia is a plant, native to South America, grown for its sweet leaves. The extract from the leaves is used to make a natural sweetener that has up to 300 times the sweetness of sugar, but with ZERO calories and negligible impact on blood sugar. And of course, it’s all natural, not a synthetic chemical sugar substitute. Does it get any better? YES! It tastes like sugar and has no aftertaste (unlike most artificial sweeteners).

Stevia has been widely used in other countries for hundreds of years (e.g. South America, Japan) but it has gone mainstream in the US more recently followng FDA approval for use. It is marketed under brands like Truvia, Sun Crystals, PureVia, SweetLeaf, and Stevia Extract In The Raw. You can find it in most grocery stores and in any health food store near the sugar (and other sweeteners). It is also slowly being incorporated as a sweetener in beverages and other processed foods.

I’ve experimented with a number of recipes using stevia as a replacement for sugar. I haven’t done any baking with it since sugar plays such a key role in the texture of most baked goods, but I have had great luck with it in salad dressings, marinades, and sauces that call for sugar. My daughter’s favorite use is on top of strawberries (when she doesn’t think they are already sweet enough – ack!). It of course is a great sweetener option for coffee or tea or other beverages as well. I recently made homemade lemonade by squeezing fresh lemons and adding cold water and stevia – and it was amazing!

Here’s a chart from PureVia listing conversion rates from sugar to stevia to get the equivalent sweetness if you’re ready to do some experimentation of your own!

And here’s a link to some recipes from Truvia if you need a little inspiration to get you started.

I’d love to hear what you try and what your results were!

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