What is Stevia?

What is Stevia?

Author -  Jenna Walker

Did you know that the compound found in the Stevia plant has been used as a sweetener in Japan for over 30 years? The use of ‘Stevia’ as a natural sweetener is growing in popularity in New Zealand, but most of us want to know what it is, where it comes from, and if it is safe. This article tells you what you need to know on Stevia.

Everything you need to know on Stevia

What is Stevia?

Stevia rebaudiana is a plant with very sweet leaves.

What are Steviol glycosides?

Steviol glycosides are the sweet tasting compounds which are extracted from the leaves of the Stevia plant.

What are they used in?

Steviol glycosides are becoming more commonly used in beverages such as tea, soft drinks, flavoured drinks, and formulated liquid supplements or meal replacements. There are also newer food products being made with stevia such as sugar-free chocolate. Food manufacturers can choose to use Steviol glycosides in place of sugar or artificial sweeteners. Some people also use granulated stevia in the home in place of sugar in baking recipes.

Are Steviol glycosides safe?

Food Standards Australia New Zealand regulates the use of food additives in the manufacture of food and beverages. Additives are extensively tested for safety before being approved by FSANZ, and may only be used for good reason. FSANZ has approved Steviol glycosides and has set a maximum level that can be added to foods to ensure our safety. FSANZ states:
“Steviol glycosides are not carcinogenic, genotoxic or associated with any reproductive or developmental toxicity. We concluded that use of Steviol glycosides at the proposed levels does not raise any public health and safety concerns, is technologically justified and could result in a better taste benefitting both food manufacturers and consumers.”[1].

Why are Steviol glycosides used?

Steviol glycosides are a natural source of intense sweetness and provide very few calories. This makes them an ideal alternative to standard sugar and other commercially produced artificial sweeteners. Like other sweeteners, a lot less of this compound can be used to achieve the same amount of sweetness that much higher quantities of sugar would provide.

We as a nation are consuming twice the amount of sugar we should be [2]. Pure sugar provides energy for our body but very little in the way of vitamins or minerals – we call this ‘empty calories’. One of the main focus points of the Ministry of Health Food and Nutrition Guidelines is to reduce the amount of sugar we eat and drink [3]. Steviol glycosides offer a sweetener which is natural, safe, and can help reduce the amount of sugar we consume – making room for more nutritious foods in our diet.

1. Food Standards Australia New Zealand Standards Annual Report Development – Applications and Proposals.
2. Ministry of Health. A focus on nutrition key findings of the2008/09 New Zealand Adult Nutrition Survey, Wellington.
3. Ministry of Health, 2003. Food and Nutrition Guidelines for Healthy Adults: A background paper, Wellington.