Description: A green herb in the chrysanthemum family, stevia looks like a small weed with serrated wide leaves. It’s a natural alternative to artificial sweeteners, as the powdered leaves of stevia are 30 times sweeter than table sugar, have no effect on blood sugar, and are non-caloric.
Flavor: Stevia-sweetened foods have a thin sweetness that can leave a bitter aftertaste. Traditional bakers tend to prefer caloric sweetners, such as cane sugar and honey, as they give flavor fullness and body that stevia can’t.
Use: Once limited to the health-food market in the US as an unapproved herb, the plant-derived sweetener stevia is now widely available. Sweeten tea or lemonade with stevia; sprinkle it atop warm or cold cereal.
FDA Battles: In 1991, stevia was banned in the US due to early studies that suggested the sweetener may be a carcinogen. A follow-up study repudiated the initial study, and, in 1995, the FDA allowed stevia to be imported and sold as a food supplement but not as a sweetener. At the time, some argued that artificial-sweetener manufacturers pressured the FDA to keep stevia out of the industry. In December 2008, however, the FDA changed its position and allowed stevia in mainstream US food production.