What is stevia anyways?
Stevia is quite the "sweetener in the news" these days.
It used to be something most hadn't heard about, but now it's showing up all over the place--in bottled drinks, in the sweetener section of your grocery store, and on blogs (such as mine :).)
So today I'm sharing some facts about stevia, what kinds of stevia there are, and how to use stevia.
I get loads of questions about stevia from readers. Mostly it's about how to use it, how to measure it, etc. So--in the hopes of having a helpful "go to" resource for all of you, here is more about this amazingly sweet plant and how you can use it.
However, I also get comments now and then (or see them in other places) about stevia being artificial. So I think it's important to answer the question, "What is stevia" and then talk about how to use this low-carb sweetener.
What is Stevia?
Stevia rebaudiana is a plant in the stevia group of plants that grows wild in Paraguay and Brazil. The glucosides in the leaves are the extremely sweet part of the plant.
Stevia is super sweet (the leaves are about 10-15 times as sweet as sugar while the extract is about 300 times as sweet as sugar)
Stevia has no calories,
Stevia doesn't feed candida (read What is Candida-The Beginning of My Sugar-Free Life),
Stevia has a glycemic index of zero (meaning it doesn't affect blood sugar levels), making it a sweetener of choice for those who suffer from candida, or who have sugar metabolism issues, like diabetes.
There are some who are wondering, "is stevia safe?" I have done quite a bit of research into this and I feel very comfortable using it. You can read the post linked to in the previous sentence to find out how I reached that conclusion.
Different Forms of Stevia
Before we get into the different kinds of stevia, I think what is most important to point out is that the answer to the question, "What is stevia?" is that it is a plant that is made into a variety of different sweetening forms. Here they are:
The stevia leaves can be dried, crushed, and used as a sweetener. They are sweeter than sugar, but the "licorice-y" aftertaste is stronger than that of the pure white powder extract. You can also buy stevia in this powdered form.
I have never used this form. I hope to grow stevia myself soon and get more experience with this and also make stevia extract with it!
Green Stevia Drops
This is a liquid form of stevia, but it is not refined. Approximately 1 Tablespoon of this is the equivalent of 1 cup of sugar. It has a stronger aftertaste than the refined powder with a more "licorice-y" taste.
I personally haven't used this form either but hope to try it soon.
These typically come in convenient packets that make it easy to take with you and add to your favorite beverages while on the run. They also come in baking blends so you can easily use them 1:1 for baking.
I never buy these, for several reasons.
a. Most of them have fillers that are not what I want in my body (natural flavors, etc.).
b. They are a expensive compared to using the pure extract powder.
Remember, I am
cheap - er - frugal. I would rather carry around my little container of stevia extract powder in my purse with a little stainless steel scoop and use that. See below for scoop info.
c. The packets are just more garbage to add to landfills. As much as we can, we try to be a "no throw away" family. If everyone does their part we can clean up this world little by little.
Liquid Stevia Drops
These drops have become really popular over the past several years. They come in many varieties--both plain and flavored.
You can get mint, lemon, orange, chocolate, and even fancy flavors such as English Toffee, Root Beer, Hazelnut and Vanilla Cream! We love these drops and get them occasionally. My kids love having a treat of flavored water. The root beer and chocolate drops are their current favorites.
If you are trying to get your family off of soft drinks, these drops are a great thing to bring into your household. You could buy sparkling water and add these to it. And if you're advanced in your fermentation skills, you could add these to your "fizzed" water kefirs or kombuchas.
I have a recipe for Homemade Liquid Stevia Drops that is a super frugal way to make your own stevia drops for use in recipes, beverages, or hot cereals.
Pure Stevia Extract Powder
This is the form of stevia that I most often use.
It is a super sweet powdery substance that comes in containers from 1 oz up to 1 lb. I currently buy the 1 lb size to save money (I buy almost everything in bulk). Stevia's shelf-life is long and that container lasts us about 1 year or more. And we use stevia a lot.
I use NuNaturals because I like the taste of it the best (some of the stevia powders out there have a stronger aftertaste), plus it is extracted without chemicals. There are a few other companies out there that extract with just water like NuNaturals, but this one is my choice for taste, strength, and purity. Other brands I have tried are not as strong so you end up using more which costs more in the long run.
How to Use Stevia
Now that we've answering the question, "What is stevia," let's move on to how to use this amazing sweetener.
There are tons of recipes using stevia on the internet (and on my blog :).)
Or, you can mix some into warm cereals, or put on top of cold cereals. One of our favorite warm cereals is this Cream of Brown Rice.
Baking with stevia is a little tricky. Here are some tips that I think will help.
Mix It Up
I find that it's better to use a mixture of alternative sweeteners to get a smoother "more like sugar" taste. Plus, stevia on its own has no bulking agents so you will have to add something to your recipe to get it to work something like the original if you are only using stevia.
What I typically do is cut the sweetener in a recipe in half and use one half of a no glycemic index, candida-diet-friendly sweetener (like xylitol in my case. You of course, can use a sweetener that is appropriate for your health needs) and then use stevia powdered extract for the other half. See the next section for measuring stevia.
How to Measure Stevia
Since the stevia extract powder is about 300 times as sweet as sugar, a little goes a looooong way. That's why a 1 lb container lasts a long time.
But it can be pretty tricky measuring something so strong.
When I first started using stevia, I was working on a candida protocol via Whole Approach. The ladies there were all talking about a "scoop" of stevia.
"Well, what on earth does a scoop of stevia look like?", I wondered.
I soon found out when I bought my first container of stevia extract--it came with a teeny plastic scoop in the container (it was kind of hidden in the white powder) and it served its purpose well for a long time. However, it eventually broke and I found that not all stevia extracts come with such a scoop. I ended up finding the same scoops at soap making companies, but they broke quickly so I wanted to find a better alternative.
These mini stainless measuring scoops fit the bill perfectly. I only needed one of the scoops, but they are pretty reasonable so I was willing to buy the set.
The 2nd smallest scoop is 1/32 of a teaspoon (the standard "stevia scoop" size) and it fits nicely in my small stevia container.
I purchased one of the smaller stevia containers (about a 3 oz size) and then refill it with stevia from the 1 pound size. Alternatively, you can of course find some other small container to hold your stevia. This is the first brand of stevia I bought and it happened to be the right size for everyday use. (If you choose to buy it, I hope the container is still the same size as it was years ago:).)
How to Use Stevia in Recipes
1 scoop of stevia extract (1/32 tsp) = 2 Tbsp sugar
Typically I assume 1 scoop of stevia equals 2 Tablespoons of sugar.
But that will depend on the type of stevia you use. I have found that the strengths really vary from brand to brand.
Same goes for the liquid drops. I've found it hard to find a "one size fits all" chart to depend on so I recommend you use stevia "to taste" in your recipes and then keep track of what you like. I use NuNaturals all the time in my recipes so if you are using recipes from my blog, you will know that that brand will work.
NOTE: If you are using powdered green stevia, then that is a different story. In that case, substitute 1 T ground green stevia for every 1 cup sugar.
Perhaps I can figure something out to share in the future, but for now this is how I am using stevia in recipes that don't call for it.
So--what do you think?
I hope that helped you t0 answer the question "what is stevia" as well as to learn how to use stevia, and that this made it easier for you to use it for your family should you need and/or choose to do so.
Were you wondering "what is stevia" and if so, did you learn what you'd hoped to?