Stevia herb or sweetleaf from the stevia rebaudiana plant species is a sweet herb and is best known just as stevia. Stevia sweetener is the extract from stevia leaf and is widely used as a natural sweetener and sugar substitute. Stevia extract is also available as a food additive and dietary supplement.
Stevia plants are native of Brazil, Columbia, Paraguay and Venezuela. Stevia leaves contain stevioside and rebaudioside A which are up to 300 times sweeter than sugar. According to stevia.net website, 1 teaspoon of stevia powder is equivalent to 1 cup of sugar. What's good about this sweet herb is that it has no calories and does not produce any side effect compared to sugar and artificial sweeteners.
Centuries ago, the natives of Paraguay used sweetleaf to sweeten their foods and beverages as well as to mask the taste of unpleasant medicines. And around the 1970s, the Japanese started using stevia sweetener to substitute for sugar in their diet.
Here are some of the health benefits of sweetleaf or stevia leaf, stevia extract and stevia sweetener.
Sweet leaf extract is available as whole dried leaf, leaf powder, stevia liquid extract, stevia leaf tea and dissolvable tablets. It is also used as an ingredient in chewing gums, baked foods, ice creams, soft drinks and skin care products.
In the early 1990s, the USA banned stevia unless it was labeled as a supplement. Many consumers were concerned on the dangers of stevia. In December 2008, the US approved the use of rebaudioside A, which is one of the compounds in sweetleaf, as a food additive and classified it as generally recognized as safe (GRAS). Stevia sweetener is still banned in some countries.
The Japanese have been taking sweet leaf extract for decades and have not reported any stevia side effects. And South Americans who have been using this sweet herb for ages have also not experienced any health issues.