Sunday, March 8, 2009

Does Stevia Taste Good?

Now that rebaudioside A, a sweet steviol glycoside found in the Stevia leaf, has been deemed by the FDA as GRAS (generally recognized as safe), I’ve noticed a buzz developing. People who previously viewed Stevia as unsafe are now curious about this natural herb. While the Stevia herb as a whole has not been given the okay as a sweetener by the FDA, there are many of us who have used it for years in place of sugar and manmade sugar substitutes.

As of now, the Stevia leaf is officially classified as a dietary supplement. Some say that the reason why the FDA does not allow Stevia to be marketed as a sweetener is because there is no money to be made by the government with natural herbs. Whatever the case may be, it is a fact that the Stevia herb has been enjoyed (without harm) as a natural sweetener for many years in certain countries, like Japan and India. If you’re interested about using Stevia as a sweetener, keep reading to get my personal review of the sweet herb.

My first experience using Stevia was ho-hum, at best. I bought a box of the SweetLeaf Stevia Plus Fiber packets and my taste buds were sorely disappointed. There was a bitter aftertaste with the powdered form of Stevia that I just couldn’t fully get used to. It could be that the added fiber caused this aftertaste and the packets without fiber are okay. I couldn’t tell you for sure, though, as that lackluster experience had me reaching for my Splenda packets again.

But then I discovered the liquid form of Stevia. What a difference! A few drops in my tea or coffee gave me all the sweetness I needed, without the ugly calories. There was a short “break in” period of using the liquid Stevia before my taste buds got used to the slightly odd tang.

I’ve used liquid Stevia products from SweetLeaf and NOW Foods, and both brands taste good. The original liquid Stevia is my favorite, and I use 5-6 drops religiously every morning in my cup of cappuccino.

I’ve tried several of the flavored versions as well, including Raspberry Chocolate, Valencia Orange, and Root Beer. I half-heartedly used the root beer one in carbonated water, but stopped when I found Hansen’s Diet Root Beer Soda. The orange-flavored liquid Stevia goes pretty well with hot tea (both green and black). It’s been several years since I used the raspberry chocolate one and, honestly, I can’t remember right now what I used it for.

As for using liquid Stevia in your baked goods, I say go for it! I use it in my cakes, brownies, and muffins all the time and I get many compliments on them. (I also use applesauce/baby food in place of oil, which of course adds to the sweetness of the baked goods.)

If you plan on using liquid Stevia in your next cake, just make sure to use it sparingly. I personally find that using 10 drops of the sweetener per single layer cake, brownie batch, or 12 full-sized muffins gives the right amount of sweetness without adding a bitter aftertaste to the food.

I like liquid Stevia just fine, but it really is an individual thing. My husband has tried it once in his green tea and hasn’t used the natural sweetener since. It all depends on how willing you are to give liquid Stevia a try. If your blood glucose levels are fine, you don’t have a weight problem, and like sugar a lot, chances are you’ll want to keep using sugar.

One word of caution before I go: make sure the liquid Stevia you buy is a clear liquid (unless, of course, it’s of the flavored variety). Out of convenience, I once bought a different brand of Stevia than the two I mentioned earlier (SweetLeaf and NOW Foods). I opened the jar up at home only to discover something that looked and oozed like black automobile oil. I knew how liquid Stevia should look (clear and runny like water), but what if some newbie had found this unsavory bottle and thought this was normal? Yikes!

Whew! This turned out to be a longer post than I planned. I hope my experience with Stevia has helped you.

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