Stevia - a New Sweetener
~ June 2010 No.232 ~
Of the taste sensations that we experience - sour, salty, sweet, and bitter, sweet is perhaps the one that is associated most often with pleasure. Many of us have a “sweet tooth” that influences our food choices. But even our taste buds can be fooled.
Sucrose, or common table sugar, is the most familiar source of sweetness in our diet. Sucrose is in many recipes or lists of ingredients, or it can just be added at the table to foods or beverages. Sucrose that comes from sugar cane or sugar beet is called a disaccharide and is composed of two simple sugars - glucose and fructose. However, there are other compounds, not closely related to sucrose, that can also produce a sweet taste
One source of sweetness is the stevia plant. Stevia1 (S. rebaudiana), is a South American plant that is a member of the Compositae family - the plant family that also includes sunflower. Stevia leaves can be extracted to produce, sweet crystalline diterpene glycosides called steviosides. Steviosides can be 200-300 times sweeter than sucrose, and in addition, steviosides have a caloric value of zero, making them very popular with dieters. Steviosides are non-fermentable, non-discolouring, maintain heat stability at 95 °C and have a long shelf life. Like traditional sugar, steviosides come in the form of a white powder that can easily be added to recipes or foods and beverages. Initial scientific studies have indicated that steviosides can regulate blood glucose levels, are safe for diabetics to consume, do not cause cancer, and can be used to lower hypertension.
The United States Food and Drug Administration have stated that they have no objections to a stevioside being used as a general purpose sweetener. In Canada stevia is an ingredient in several natural health products.
Chemical Structure of Stevioside
Stevioside and related compounds: Therapeutic benefits beyond sweetness
Pharmacol Ther. Jan;121(1):41-54