By Cat, July 2007 (Photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)
Stevia is a natural, zero-calorie sweetener from the Stevia herb, and is available in many forms, as listed below.
- powdered dried herb (green color)
- dark liquid extract
- refined stevioside crystals (white); see “Important Note” below
- refined stevia mixed with inulin or other fiber as a bulking agent, for sweetening coffee, tea and other beverages.
Stevia is extremely sweet, so that a little bit goes a long way. It is especially useful in recipes that include fruit or fruit juice. I think it makes a better-flavored lemonade than when using sugar to sweeten.
Unlike artificial sweeteners, stevia is actually good for you! It has no calories and is very low on the glycemic index scale, making it suitable for use by diabetics. And it may even improve insulin sensitivity for those who are insulin resistant.
Using Stevia in Recipes
See also my article on The EssentiaList: Cooking with Stevia (Natural Sweetener)
I like to incorporate a little maple syrup in baked recipes using stevia extract powder. Maple syrup contains vital minerals and enzymes to help digest the sugars and slow down their absorption into the blood stream (see Unprocessed & minimally-refined sugars (about) or Sugar and other Sweeteners (in the diet section of my main website) for more on maple syrup).
Interestingly, stevia cannot be recommended or advertised as a sweetener, because the makers of Splenda and Nutrasweet have successfully lobbied to prohibit reference to stevia as a sweetener. Instead, it can only be marketed as a supplement.
Stevia extract powder
This is pure stevia extract, not cut with anything.
Most of my recipes use stevia extract powder (refined stevioside crystals as in photo, left, from Amazon.com), which can sometimes have a slightly bitter aftertaste, so that it is best to mix it with some fruit or fruit juice, and then let it rest a bit, which overcomes that bitterness.
If the recipe does not call for fruit, use 1 – 2 Tbsp orange or lemon juice to replace equal amount of other liquid in the recipe (such as milk or water), then dissolve the stevia in the juice. If the recipe doesn’t include any liquid, I suggest using liquid stevia extract or the dried green herb, as these have much less bitter aftertaste.
** When converting a recipe from sugar to stevia extract powder: **
For each 1 cup of sugar:
- Most brands indicate to use 1 tsp stevia extract powder, but this is overly sweet and the bitter aftertaste is more noticeable;
- ½ – ¾ tsp stevia is still sweet but not overpowering and not as much bitter aftertaste;
- I use ⅓ – ½ tsp stevia extract powder because I don’t like things overly sweet; I don’t notice an bitter aftertaste at this level.
For some recipes, like sugar cookies and other chewy cookies, you cannot replace all the sugar with stevia because sugar is important for the texture of the cookie. However, you can use stevia to replace ¼ – ⅓ of the total sugar in the recipe.
>> Important Note: In my recipes, when I indicate “stevia extract powder” I mean pure, refined stevioside crystals, (not the kind mixed with fiber or dextrose for sweetening beverages). This distinction is important because:
- 1 tsp of pure stevia powder (Sweet Leaf brand) is equivalent to 1 – 2 cups of sugar depending on your taste, while
- 1 tsp of the kind mixed with fiber is roughly equivalent to only 3 – 4 tsp sugar; this comes in small packets (for beverages) as well as larger packaging.
My recipes are based on the sugar equivalency of Sweet Leaf brand (now part of the Wisdom family). If you use a different brand of the extract powder (not Sweet Leaf), it may have different sugar equivalencies, and you may need to adjust the amount. << End of Note
Stevia powder for beverages (cut with fiber or dextrose)
I do not use this as a sugar substitute in recipes because its sugar equivalence makes it too expensive. As mentioned above, 1 tsp of this powder is equivalent to about 3 – 4 tsp sugar, so would need ¼ – ⅓ cup of this powder to replace 1 cup of sugar. (Whereas pure stevia extract powder requires only ½ – 1 tsp of the powder to replace 1 cup of sugar).
However, I do use it in beverages such as lemonade, or to sweeten unsweetened cranberry juice, for example.
Dark stevia liquid concentrate (extract)
Image, right, is from Sweet Leaf’s website (2).
The extract is made by simmering the green stevia leaves in water until thick and dark, then filtered. Because it is not highly processed, it contains all the nutrients in the natural leaf, and may not impart a bitter aftertaste. It is used in recipes where a molasses or brown sugar flavor is desired, but can also be used in recipes where other flavors dominate. It is also popular for sweetening coffee, tea and other beverages.
I use Sweet Leaf Stevia Concentrate brand of stevia liquid extract; the following is my equivalence is for that brand.* The conversions, below are roughly half of the general recommendations (for general recommendations, see stevia.net (3)), because I don’t like the bitter aftertaste at the higher equivalence.
** When converting a recipe from sugar to stevia liquid concentrate: **
- For each cup of sugar, use 1 tsp dark stevia liquid concentrate;
- For each ¼ cup of sugar, use ¼ tsp dark stevia liquid concentrate;
- For each Tablespoon of sugar, use 3 – 6 drops dark stevia liquid concentrate.
*Note: Sweet Leaf also has a less concentrated form with added flavors, called Sweet Drops (2), which has a different equivalence than given above.
For more on sugar equivalency of stevia, check out stevia.net website (3).
Dried stevia leaves
I have never used the dried leaves. They will impart a slight greenish color when used, so may not be attractive in baked goods. They also have a bit of licorice flavor that must be considered. However, as a whole food, they are the most healthful version of stevia.
You can grow stevia in your garden, and make your own liquid extract in your kitchen. See my article for The EssentiaList: Stevia: Growing, Harvesting, Drying, & Using this Sweetener.
Info on Other Sweeteners
Refer to Non-sugar sweeteners (about) (includes xylitol and other sugar alcohols, stevia, lo han, and artificial sweeteners), or my articles on different forms of sugar, both natural and altered:
- Unprocessed & minimally-refined sugars (about) includes dehydrated sugar cane juice such as Rapadura, honey, maple syrup, molasses, malted barley, sorghum, sweet dairy whey, coconut crystals;
- Processed sugars (about); includes white & brown sugar, dextrose, levulose, sweet dairy whey, corn syrup, HFCS;
- Vanilla sugar (included in recipe post for Cheesecake)
- Unrefined Powdered Sugar: Make Your Own
[These were moved from Sugar and other Sweeteners (in the diet section of my main website)]
See also my articles for The EssentiaList:
- Sweet Cravings Part 1: Natural Sugar Sweeteners (5 pages)
- Sweet Cravings Part 2: Corn Syrups, Agave Nectar & Aguamiel (6 pages)
- Sweet Cravings Part 3: Stevia, Xylitol and Artificial Sweeteners (6 pages)