The Sweet History of Stevia

San Antonio TXStevia is extracted from the leaves of the plant species Stevia rebaudiana. Today, high purity stevia leaf extracts – chemically known as steviol glycosides – are used as a sweetening ingredient in foods and beverages in over 65 countries around the world, according to the Global Stevia Institute (GPS). Although stevia leaf extract has only been approved as an ingredient since 2008, the plant itself has a rich history that began more than two centuries ago.

More than 200 years ago, the Guaraní people from South America started adding dried stevialeaves to sweeten their traditional drink called yerba mate, as well as teas and medicine. The leaves were also just chewed for their sweet taste. Due to its natural sweetness, the plant was named ka’a he’ê, in the guaraní language, which means sweet herb.

In 1887, the Swiss botanist Moisés Santiago Bertoni emigrated to Paraguay. He started studying the Guarani’s “sweet herb” and observed and first describes its sweet taste in 1899. A year later the Paraguayan chemist Ovidio Rebaudi published the first chemical analysis performed to the plant, where he discovered a glycoside sweetener able to sweeten 200 times more than refined sugar, but without the counterproductive effects sugar produced in the human organism. Bertoni officially named the plant Eupatorium rebaudiana in Ovidio Rebaudi’s honor. Some years later, in 1905, the name change to Stevia rebaudiana and it was defined as a member of the sunflower family (Asteraceae) and related to the chrysanthemum.

In 1931, two French chemists, M. Bridel and R. Lavielle, isolated the glycosides stevioside and rebaudioside that give stevia its sweet taste. They also reported on the safety of stevia in the guinea pig, rabbit, and rooster. It was in 1937, when another scientist, E. Thomas, established the sweetening power of stevioside as 300 times higher than that of sucrose and outlined the best conditions for growing stevia.

However, even with this compelling research, no strong interest had sprang out in Europe or in the United States for using stevia as a sugar replacement. It was Japan, a strong importer of sugar, who wisely saw stevia as a potential industry that could improve its economy.  Japanese farmers and food scientists were sent to Paraguay to learn about stevia. They took stevia seeds and seedlings to Japan, where 50 acres of suitable land were selected for growing stevia.  In the 1970’s Japan was the first country to commercially adopt the use of stevia as an ingredient in meals for human consumption.  Then plants were taken to other Asian countries such as China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.

In 2008 the high-purity stevia leaf extract was given the GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) status by the US FDA, thus allowing the extract to be used in food and beverages. In 2011, the European Food Safety Authority approved the use of steviol glycosides as a sweetener in foods and beverages. Today, 4 billion people around the world enjoy the stevia extract in their food and beverages.

Sources:

Global Stevia Institute

http://globalsteviainstitute.com/images/discover-sweet-history-stevia/

Stevia University

http://steviauniversity.com/about-stevia/history-of-stevia

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SVETIA® Calorie – Free Sweetener is made with cane sugar and stevia extract. One packet of SVETIA® contains only one gram of carbohydrates. People with diabetes are advised to check with their registered dietitian or physician.

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