Sunday, April 8, 2012

Stevia Secrets

Our fledgling stevia plant
Joseph's Cooking Notes:

I love stevia! It’s great stuff, but it doesn’t taste very good because it’s 300 times sweeter than sugar. It’s so sweet that if you ate the extract straight, your mouth would implode and you might end up with permanently sunken cheeks. Don’t try it. Let this serve as your warning.

You have to deal with it like it’s cocaine—only a fingernail full at a time—but I wouldn’t try snorting it, either, unless you’re some kind of South American shaman seeking an out-of-body experience to toot-sweet land—and don’t use your fingernail. This is a cooking blog! We need sanitary conditions in the kitchen, and what’s under your fingernails is just gross, and not very appetizing.

But stevia, despite my hyperbole, is an incredibly useful tool if you know the tricks to its application. If you taste it in your dish, you’ve used too much, but when you use the right amount, you can use some of that 300-times-sugar sweetness to reduce the amount of other sweeteners. When used in such small amounts, stevia doesn’t impact blood sugar, so it keeps you off the insulin/fat storage roller coaster and all the diseases of civilization that come with it.

WHITE OR GREEN? An important difference!

You need to use 100% pure stevia rebaudiana extract, and stevia leaf, with no additional additives!

The stevia extract is white and is four times more potent than stevia leaf, which is green. Throughout this blog, I’ll refer to them as green stevia or white stevia.

I often prefer green stevia because it’s just ground up stevia leaves, but it doesn’t completely disperse in liquid, it floats, and it tends to turn things green, which is good if you’re making a St. Patrick's Day mint pudding, but is rather unappetizing if you aren’t. So if you need to make some hot chocolate or to make a sweet custard, you’ll need to use the white stevia—just remember to use four times less than you would green, and vice-versa.

The 100% pure part is VERY IMPORTANT for the success of the recipes on this blog. Find an ingredients list on the stevia packet, box, bottle, or bin and make sure there are no additives. Stevia rebaudiana should be the only ingredient. Many stevia-esque products litter the shelves of supermarkets. Don’t buy them! They will not work in these recipes because they’re not as sweet as the pure stuff. They’re also full of junk.

Until December of 2008, stevia was banned in this country. But then the drug-pushing food manufacturers found a way to cut stevia with sugar alcohols and pouring agents. They needed to create a product that will sit in sugar boxes on restaurant tables next to the Sweet 'n Low and Equal.

Sugar acids like Splenda may not have carbohydrates, but if you eat them, you will become desperate for Coca-Cola or candy—craving them and drooling when you see TV ads or smell the cookies in the plastic packages at Wal Mart—which is why Coke and Cargill got together to make Truvia. In addition to stevia, it contains sugar alcohols so it’ll make people crave and purchase more of their other products, so stevia isn’t a threat to their profits any longer.

So either hook yourself up with a good stevia dealer like Trader Joe’s or grow your own. It’s legal! And it’s a plant, not a chemikill.—Joseph
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Lianne's Cooking Notes:

Beware of misleading packaging. At our last shelf inspection, Trader Joe’s offered no fewer than three packages with nearly identical labels:
  1. The smallest was 100% pure stevia rebaudiana extract (white) and hence the most expensive. It will last for years, and it's the stuff Joseph uses in his recipes. Buy that one. Use 1/128th of a teaspoon at a time, which is the amount we estimate the little white scoop (included) contains. Joseph's gross fingernail analogy is actually quite accurate, in terms of amount.
  2. The box containing packets lists evil maltodextrin as the first ingredient, and each packet contains many times the amount of stevia we consider to be a single serving. Blechh! No wonder people who pour this stuff in their lemonade nearly gag, and give up on stevia! 
  3. The large round container is filled up by stevia blended with straight lactose—a stomachache in a bottle for many of us. And it would also cause Joseph's recipes to fail because it's so bulked up by this filler.
Note that all three packages said "100%" on their nearly matching labels. But only the little expensive one said "100% Pure" stevia, and the latter two said "100% Natural."

Where to find the powdered "green stevia leaf" Joseph likes so much?

Look in your local health food store and, again, pay close attention to the labels. Very often the same brand will put out several versions, as Trader Joe's did. We used to rely on NOW brand, but they've stopped offering it. I found this package with free shipping on Amazon: Frontier Bulk Stevia Herb Powder(Green), CERTIFIED ORGANIC, 1 lb. package It contains enough to last several years but as our current supply runs out, this will be our choice. Perhaps Frontier brand will eventually release a smaller container. Still, for the health benefits, it's well worth the investment. I also found it for a couple dollars less (after shipping costs) on, but I'm not familiar with that merchant.

Meanwhile, you can see the tiny little stevia sprout we're nurturing. It's native to South and Central America and I suspect it doesn't like our cool nights just now. It already has three sets of leaves, but look how small next to the baby basil and parsley pots!

Or maybe it's tiny because it doesn't take much for this powerful plant to work its magic? Imagine how many of these it takes to make a one-pound bag ... —Lianne

P.S. from Lianne: I just found a site with a "stevia conversion chart" and thought I'd share it with you. Especially if you're new to stevia, it'll give you an idea how potent this stuff is! In fact, I wouldn't take this chart too literally; start with less! and be aware of the differences between green, white, and liquid (which we never liked).  Stevia Conversion Chart 


  1. stevia added to chocolate will get sweet to a certain point and then it seems to get less sweet or even bitter as more is added??

    1. True—too much stevia will make a food inedible. You have to use just enough so you can barely taste it, and then just enjoy your treat that way, if you’re motivated to control your carbohydrate intake. Or you can add some honey, maple syrup, or other sweetener. If you combine stevia with other natural sweeteners, you won’t notice much difference in taste, and you’ll drastically reduce the amount of sweetener you’d otherwise need, which is a great help in controlling blood-sugar spikes while still satisfying a sweet tooth.

  2. An update about the stevia plants in our garden: The little babies pictured here went out into the herb garden in our challenged, mostly granite in San Diego. They grew into big plants, about a foot tall, and gave us more stevia leaves than we could use! We still like the convenience of what we can buy commercially, but experimented with both fresh and dried leaves. The plants died back in our mild winter, then regrew from the roots in spring, 2013. This year, with our drought, the early re-growth faded when we failed to water, but they are now trying to come back again, February, 2014. So if you want to grow your own, it must be a very hardy plant! Let us know how it goes in your climate! -- Lianne