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What is Stevia?


Stevia is a nutrient ­rich herb. It is a small, plant of the Asteraceae, also called Compositae (daisy) family, found originally growing along the edges of the rainforest by the Guarani natives of Paraguay. Paraguayans believe it was first used by their ancestors more than 1,500 years ago, both for its sweet taste and medicinal benefits. The plant grows 2­4 feet in height with slender, branched stems, and flourishes well all over temperate, and some parts of tropical regions.

Almost all the parts of the plant tastes sweet; however, the sweet glycosides are typically concentrated in its dark­ green serrated leaves. The Guarani Indians of Paraguay have used its leaves to sweeten drinks and foods, and employed in various traditional medicines. In the modern times, it is widely used in foods in many parts of India, East Asia region and South American countries.

The leaves contain vital nutrients that have been identified, and are 30 or more times sweeter than sugar, depending upon the variety, location and time of harvest. The variety determines the amount and blend of glycosides within each stevia leaf.

The scientific name of stevia is Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni. Some commonly known names are honey leaf plant, sweet chrysanthemum, Sweet leaf stevia, sugar-leaf, sweet tulsi. Etc., Dr. Moises Santiago Bertoni, director of the College of Agriculture in Asuncion, a Swiss botanist of Italian descent, discovered Stevia in 1887. He said “A fragment of the leaf only a few square millimeters in size suffices to keep the mouth sweet for an hour, a few small leaves are sufficient to sweeten a strong cup of coffee or tea”.

It acts as digestive tonic, relieves upset Stomach, strengthens blood vessels, improves blood coagulation, and helps in cell regeneration, dental health preventing dental cavities, helps in improving skin tone and reduces dandruff. Recent scientific trials firmly establish that this sweet­leaf herb has many health benefiting plant-derived phyto­chemical compounds that help control blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure in addition to its use as a natural sweetener. It has rich antioxidants and possess anti-microbial properties. Together with the rise in demand for low­calorie food alternatives, stevia has drawn the attention of health conscious fitness lovers all over the planet.

Stevia being a zero calorie sweetener does not hike the insulin levels in blood, thus making a perfect choice not only those who suffer from diabetes but also for other non – diabetic health conscious people.

The sweetness comes from the numerous naturally occurring glycosides. Research indicates that various stevia glycosides extracted from the leaves can be 50 to 400 times sweeter than sugar, depending on the glycosides and the manner/type of extraction.

Stevia sweeteners no-calorie source of sweetness. The sweeteners contain purified Steviol glycosides, which are taken from the sweetest part of the Stevia plant. Like other low-calorie sweeteners, they are “intense” sweeteners – 200-300 times sweeter than sugar.