BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked

Sweet On Stevia

39 Comments

Artificial sweeteners scare me. All those unpronounceable chemicals of indeterminate origin don’t exactly sound like delicious ingredients, let alone wholesome food stuffs. With so much controversy surrounding the myriad of mysterious white powders on the market, I do my best to avoid them altogether… But one new contender in this same aisle has everyone buzzing; Stevia.

A different beast altogether, stevia is a natural dried herb, not a man-made sugar derivative. However, what you find in the packets isn’t just pure herbs, but a mixture of stevia leaf, some sort of desiccant to prevent clumping, and often a de-bittering agent, as it tends to have a sharp taste when used in larger quantities. These aren’t necessarily bad things, but it got me thinking- What would real, whole, fresh stevia taste like? Could a simple herb truly taste sweet? I just had to see for myself.

Luck would have it that while picking up seedlings at a local nursery, a few little pots labeled “stevia” sat innocently nestled between the spearmint and tarragon, almost hidden in plain sight. After a moment of disbelief, I snatched up a set of the twiggy green sprouts, and hurried home to transplant them into the garden. After waiting for what seemed like forever until there were enough leaves to beginning trimming and tasting, it was love at the very first tisane.

Since then, I’ve gotten many questions about growing your own stevia, and while I still have a lot to learn, it’s proven to be a very useful ingredient for simple sweetening needs.  Less powerful than dried stevia, you would need to use about 4 – 5 times as much of the whole, finely chopped leaves as powder in a recipe calling for stevia.  As for regular sugar, about 6 large leaves is about as sweet as 1/2 cup, granulated. However, I’ve only used my stevia to sweeten drinks, including teas, sodas, and smoothies so far- In general, I would not recommend trying to bake with it. Such large amounts of sugar can’t simply be removed without throwing off the whole ratio in the recipe, and at the very least, nothing will brown properly.  Instead, think of it more as a flavoring, like mint or thyme, rather than a sugar substitute.

Apparently, the degree of sweetness is also dependent on the climate and soil that you grow your stevia in, so its flavor could vary greatly depending on where you live.  The best advice I can give is to play around with it, taste it, and discover your own preference for this fascinating herb.

What has your experience been with stevia- Is anyone else out there growing your own?  What’s your favorite way to use it?

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Author: Hannah (BitterSweet)

Author of My Sweet Vegan, Vegan Desserts, Vegan a la Mode, and Easy as Vegan Pie.

39 thoughts on “Sweet On Stevia

  1. My boys love to pick it out of the herb garden and chew it straight up! I like throwing a leaf or two in with other herbs for herby-water/tea.

  2. That’s so neat that you grow your own stevia. Awesome!

  3. I grow my own as well but I haven’t even cut it yet other than the occasional leaf to chew. I will try some in my tea this week.

  4. How interesting, I havent even heard of this sweet herb.

  5. I remember a guy in a natural foods store trying to push stevia ages ago! It never really took off then, but it seems to be becoming quite popular now. I’m glad, because I try to avoid most artificial sweeteners. Just this weekend my sister-in-law made some incredible fresh apple sauce with stevia. Even knowing there was no real sugar in it, I couldn’t taste any of those strange flavors you get with sucralose, aspartame, etc.

  6. What a great experiment! I have yet to try Stevia in cooking or baking, but I just might have to considering I’m on the same page as you regarding artificial sweeteners.

  7. I love stevia–how great it would be to grow one’s own! I use it in my morning oatmeal, in my smoothies, in salad dressings, and teas. Lately (while on the anti-candida diet), I’ve used it anywhere any other sweetener is used–but must admit, it ain’t great in chocolate pudding. ;)

  8. I didn’t even know you could grow your own! haha
    Sounds like fun, and a great addition to cold, summertime drinks.
    I think some products sweetened with it can be way too sweet sometimes. The powder is too strong for my tastes.

  9. I haven’t grown it, but I like it as a sweetener. I mostly use it in coffee. Sometimes I use it in tea, but I usually drink it black, so it seems unnecessary.

  10. I wanted also to grow stevia in my garden but I can’t seem to find it in Greece. Nice post!

  11. I just blogged about my stevia experience over the weekend! I’ve been growing some and am trying to make extract with it right now by letting some of the leaves soak in vodka for a few days. I tried it yesterday, and it seems to working…

    http://www.diggingthedistrict.com/2009/06/making-stevia-extract.html

    So far though, I’ve just been putting fresh leaves in my mint tea- just one or two leaves adds a nice hint of sweetness.

  12. Thank you so much for the in depth post! I’ve been looking for the seeds or plants at the nurseries around here with no luck, I may see if I can find some online to order :) Thanks again!!

  13. I like just a tiny pinch of the powder in drinks like smoothies or protein shakes, but honestly I am an unsweetened tea girl. I do however, stick to natural sugar for baked goods and desserts, because I love the golden brown color and warm, sweet scent that fills the house and can only be created with more traditional, perhaps veganized ingredients. IMO, a few packet of any sugar substitute in a baked good, makes it loose it’s homey, traditional asthetic and gives it an artificial diet touch.

  14. One of my persistent questions about sweeteners in general is, “Where do they go when our body is through with them?” For instance, let me pick on the little yellow packet for a moment. While Splenda tastes sweet, it has no calories because our body can’t break it apart chemically. So when we pee it away and flush it away, it makes its way back to the water supply–unharmed! Taking this thought to its logical conclusion, we have to ask, “Will water taste sweeter someday because of undigested Splenda floating around?”

    I don’t know much about how the body breaks down Stevia, but the very fact that it grows up out of the ground and is left pretty much unmolested in mass production bodes well. It’s my next “free weekend” (ha!) subject to investigate.

  15. interesting! i never would have thought of growing my own stevia. i haven’t tried any stevia out yet, but it does intrigue me.

    p.s. your iced tea cupcakes from the previous post look absolutely darling and delicious!

  16. Funny, last night I made my very own tisane using homegrown stevia, lemon balm, and lime thyme – it was delicious! My plant has gotten huge after grown for about 3 months, and I can’t seem to find ways to use it all up. By the end of the season I suppose I’ll have a lot of dried stevia on my hands

  17. I did a lengthly research project in school on stevia a few years ago. At the time it was illegal to sell stevia in the US as a sweetener, but it could be sold as a supplement. I believe that’s changed now. I personally don’t like the taste of it, but I do prefer the natural dried ground leaves as opposed to the harsh extracts.

  18. i used to work at a juice and smoothie bar where we used the liquid stevia tincture. we learned quickly that you can’t use too much or it will taste strange and bitter (same with the powder) but it works well to cut the amount of sugar in half when making drinks. i too would never cook with it.

    xylitol works well for this too! it’s derived from corn or birchwood so you can’t use it in it’s natural form like stevia but you can use the powder to sweeten things a bit.

  19. Artificial sweeteners scare me and I’ve been hesitant to try stevia from the stores. Whole stevia sounds like it could be a good sub.

  20. I actually prefer the Truvia (owned by Pepsi or Coke–not good I know) brand of stevia because it has a texture more like refined sugar. I only use it to sweeten coffee, tea, on matzo brei or plantains, or in oatmeal. Never in cookies or cake or anything really truly decadent. And after trying the Truvia brand, I can’t seem to go back to any other brand.

  21. This is really interesting information. I didn’t realize that powdered stevia contains other additives because I’ve never bought it. Using the leaves in a tisane or a smoothie seems perfect and so much more healthful than sugar…I’m going to pass this info along to my mom who liberally pours packets of carcinogens into her iced tea.

  22. Awesome! Love this post! :)

  23. What a great post! I’ll have to try to find some stevia seeds!

  24. I’ve never used stevia before but I’m with you on staying away from artificial sweeteners!

  25. Oh wow, I would never think to grow my own Stevia.

  26. Artifical sweeters are scary, I rather have real sugar any day over chemicals. But wow, a sweet herb! Now that’s awesome to be able to grow it yourself!

  27. thanks for your lovely post on stevia. artificial anything scares me and I never though to grow it myself.

    very cool!

  28. I had never even heard of Stevia… Now I have to go and see if I can find something similar although sofar I haven’t been able to find the dutch term for this herb on the internet. On to do some more searching!

  29. This is really interesting! I’ve never tried stevia yet, though I’ve heard so much about it. I should visit the local nurseries at the weekend.

  30. Stevia is not approved as a food in Europe but it’s sold as a cosmetic ingredient (to make your own toothpaste, bathing salt, etc.). People still use it as a sweetener. I’ve only had the green powder and found the liquorice taste too strong. I need to lay my hands on the white stuff.

  31. I bought the dried stuff a few years ago and couldn’t stand the after taste. I tried really hard to like it, but I eventually threw it away.

  32. Love stevia in my tea !

  33. Hi there. Love your blog.

    You must keep us posted on the care and feeding of the stevia plant if you are successful. I once found the plant at Whole Foods, and had to buy it. The sweetness of the leaf was such a surprise. I put the plant in a sunny place and watered it, but in a few days it withered and died.

    I think you’re right to avoid those stevia packets. I don’t trust the mystery ingredients.

  34. Hi Hannah,

    That is so cool you’re growing your own stevia! I use it frequently in baking, but it is the processed kind with no bad aftertaste–NuNaturals brand pure white extract. It tastes fabulous combined with erythritol (zero carb) or a bit of honey. Baking with stevia is a bit tricky since it loses its sweetness under heat, but it can be done with fabulous results.

    Have you tried blending up those in say, tea? I’m going to look for stevia plants in my area! Thanks for sharing your experience.

  35. I was growing stevia last summer and it was great! Amazing to add the leaves to smoothies. And it is one hardy plant! Lasted well into the winter on my windowsill.

  36. Very interesting! I’ll need to keep an eye out for this plant next time I’m at a nursery.

  37. Good for you to grow your own Stevia. I don’t trust any artificial sweetener, especially when I can’t pronounce them!

  38. For the longest time this stuff was banned in the US, probably a byproduct of the artificial sweetener companies not wanting people to grow their own. I am so happy you can find it in nurseries now, we will have to grow some in our garden here soon for sweetening our teas!

  39. I use stevia as a flavor enhancer in my hydration fruit-ade homemade sports drink and as a no-calorie sweetener for homemade lemonade, tea and other drinks that I like at home when I am not exercising.

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