An easy way to give sweet flavour to food or a hidden risk? Below, all you need to know about the Stevia sweeteners, plus an easy recipe for your own homemade Liquid Stevia Extract!
Stevia, also called "Stevia rebaudiana", is a plant that is a member of the chrysanthemum family, a subgroup of the Asteraceae family (ragweed family).
It is known for being 200 times sweeter than sugar and giving sweet flavour to foods and beverages without the calories.
Most of the Stevia products that are in the stores, are made from Steviol Glycosides (also known as “Reb-A”, “Refined Stevia” or "E960"), which is what gives Stevia its natural sweetness. This is happening for easier production, as well as to avoid any special flavour that Stevia could have as a plant. Also, if a brand uses natural Stevia Extract, it usually has some alcohol in it (labeled as "Alcohol" or "Natural Flavour"). If they use Steviol Glycosides, it doesn't have alcohol.
There have been various studies on the effects of Stevia to the body.
According to a 2009 study, Stevia leaf powder could help manage cholesterol by lowering the LDL “bad” cholesterol and increasing the HDL “good” cholesterol. Study participants consumed 20ml of stevia extract daily for one month (that's a lot for a normal person) and despite that, there were no negative effects.
One 2010 study found that If you have diabetes, Stevia may help keep your blood sugar levels in check. In that study, Stevia significantly lowered insulin and glucose levels for both lean and obese participants. It also left the participants satisfied and full after eating, without trying to compensate by eating more at their lunch and dinner meals when they consumed stevia.
Also, a recent study of 2018 proved that Steviol Glycosides inhibit proliferation of the gastrointestinal cancer cells.
In general, Stevia is considered safe and can help people reduce their sugar intake and have a better quality of life, as well as avoid cancer risk by not feeding the cancer cells with sugar. All these, as long as it is used wisely just like every other ingredient that we have in the kitchen. Nothing is safe if we don´t have a limit, not even water!
What about pregnant women? Can you consume Stevia? Steviol Glycoside Reb-A (“Refined Stevia”) has been evaluated for safety during pregnancy and otherwise, but still only your doctor should determine how much of this you can have. There is not enough research on whole-leaf stevia and crude stevia extract, so they are not safe to use if you’re pregnant.
What to choose
From what I've seen, Powder forms of Stevia contain other ingredients that are not necessary, unless of course we are talking about the leaves crushed into a fine powder. So if I buy, I always search for Liquid Stevia.
Personally I often buy Liquid Stevia as it is convenient for me, but I have also made Liquid Extract at home.
When I choose a new brand I always check for the following:
- It's in Liquid Form, not Powder.
- The only sweetener it contains is Steviol Glycosides or Stevia Extract.
- Ingredients such as Vegetable Glycerine, Potasium Sorbate and Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid) are fine, as they are in a very small amount and they work as natural conservatives.
- Other Sweeteners and Sugar Alcohols like the ones included in the image below (except E960) should not be present. Some of them are fine to be used alone, but I wouldn't suggest mixing. It doesn't make sense buying Liquid Stevia if it includes any of these.
- Confirm that it has zero calories per 100ml. If that's not the case, then it either contains a small percentage of alcohol (which is normal in the case of Stevia Extract) or there are hidden ingredients.
Examples of Liquid Stevia sweeteners with safe ingredients:
Below I'm recommending some brands that I know, availability depends on location.
- NOW FOODS: American brand available Internationally, the product is BetterStevia Liquid Original (the "Original" one has no flavour), made from natural Stevia Extract and has 11% of alcohol.
- ALPHAPOWER FOOD: German brand available in Europe, the product is Stevia Liquid (there is option for no flavour), made from Steviol Glycosides and has no alcohol.
- STEVIA SELECT: American brand available in USA and Canada, the product is Stevia Liquid Plain Sweet Drops (the "Plain" one has no flavour), made from Steviol Glycosides and has no alcohol.
Liquid Stevia Extract Recipe
- Dried Stevia Leaves crushed or cut in pieces
- A clean Glass Jar to save the extract
- A Tea Filter, Coffee Filter or Cheese Cloth to filter the extract
- A clean Pot to heat the extract
- A clean Glass Dropper Bottle to transfer the extract
1. Place you Stevia Leaves in the Glass Jar and add Vodka, just enough to cover the Leaves.
2. Put the lid on the Jar and shake well.
3. Let it sit for 24-36 hours maximum, don´t let it for more time because it can become bitter.
4. Filter your extract so that you get only the Liquid and tranfer it in the Pot.
5. Now you have to heat the extract, but do not boil it!! You just need a low heat for 20-30 minutes, that´s enough to evaporate the alcohol without reaching to boiling state. If you are not sure, try first the different temperatures with some water in your Pot.
6. Your homemade extract is ready! Wait until it gets cooler and transfer to your clean Dropper Bottle.
7. Store in the fridge for up to 3 months.
If you want to keep it outside of the fridge and you don't mind the alcohol content, you can skip the heating part in step 5 and just save your filtered extract directly in the Dropper Bottle. This is nice to use in cooking/baking recipes where the alcohol will evaporate either way, but in order to have equally sweet flavour to the alcohol-free extract, you will probably need to increase the amount you use.
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