Sunday, April 18, 2010

Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana)

This post was written by Michelle Lawrence, dietetic intern with the Northern Ontario School of Medicine.  She was on placement with me for a month earlier in April.  Dietitians complete a four year bachelors degree in food and nutrition and a one year internship or a master's degree.  Michelle is a gentle and fun spirit.  She was a lot of help to me and offered her helping hands and produced excellent written work that will help me in my business.  I will miss her!
While doing a placement with Nancy Guppy at Chapman’s Landing Cooking Studio this spring I was introduced to the stevia plant.  Stevia rebaudiana is an herb which, while native to South America, will grow in most areas of Northern Ontario (it can tolerate temperatures down to -6°C) and can be purchased at some nurseries or online. 

Stevia is a natural sweetener, approximately 200-300 times sweeter than sucrose, and can be eaten raw, dried or soaked in liquid to extract its flavour.  It can also be added to cooked/baked goods, processed foods and beverages.  Because stevia is non-caloric and does not affect blood sugar it has been touted as having large marketing potential as a commercial crop.  It is also non-fermentable, non-discolouring, maintains heat stability and has a lengthy shelf life.  Stevioside - sweet crystalline diterpene glycosides - can be extracted from the stevia plant and have been in use as sweeteners in places like New Zealand, Australia, Japan and South America for a number of years.  It has been approved for use in Canada and Health Canada guidelines outline upper limits for both medical and non-medicinal use.

While the food industry wrangles over the best way to exploit this plant for its sweet compounds, I recommend trying a little yourself.  Since I’ve been aware of stevia I’ve seen it in sweetened drinks at Bulk Barn etc – but I recommend the fresh if you can find it.  Iced tea is a great starting point. 

Stevia sweetened green tea iced tea with lemon:
Pour boiling water over a few green tea bags, lemon slices and a few stevia leaves and allow it to steep for at least 10 minutes (or overnight).  Chill and serve. 

This method is also really good with wild staghorn sumac in place of the green tea bags.  Add a few bunches of staghorn sumac to the mixture before steeping.  When the mixture has cooled, strain and serve.

Nancy says: a friend of mine grew a stevia plant last summer which he had purchased at the nursery near Noelville, Ontario.  The tags are show above - Freeman Herbs out of Beamsville.  He gave me the dried leaves in a jar to play with.  I have used it over the winter and spring in my cooking classes.  Some of the people like a straight stevia tea but I find this too sweet.  It is good mixed in with other teas.  A cooled batch of stevia tea can be used to naturally sweeten other juices and punches (e.g., chokecherry, mint).  Lots of potential.  I have finally found some organic stevia seeds and am going to start growing my own.

© Nancy Guppy, RD, MHSc
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1 comment:

Sharlene T. said...

Just don't let the birds know that you're planting them. They'll pull the whole plant out by the roots! I had that happen and it was too funny to get mad, but I didn't have any Stevia that year. Last year, my plant came up beautifully and has already started growing again this year. A wonderful plant.