What is Stevia?

STEVIA, a South American Plant used for centuries to sweeten food and drink.
For centuries, South Americans have used the leaves of the Stevia (or sweetleaf) plant as a natural sweetener. Now Western cultures have discovered the benefits of this incredible plant.
Stevia is native to subtropical and tropical regions of South America but is now cultivated in many countries around the world. Amazingly, its leaves have 30-45 times the sweetness of ordinary table sugar.
The extract, which is known as Rebaudioside A97, has up to 300 times the sweetness of sugar but no calories. So it’s little wonder that Stevia has gained popularity in recent years, as people look for low-calorie, natural sugar alternatives.
New, in a centuries old kind of way.
stevia leaves (640x331)

For centuries, the Guarani Indians of Paraguay knew the secret of this native plant with its unbelievable sweetening power. They called it kaa he-he (sweet leaf) and used it to sweeten foods, medicines and their bitter tea (yerba mate) – or often they simply chewed the leaves for a sweet treat.
In 1887, the new world ‘discovered’ it when an Italian botanist, Moises Santiago Bertoni, first described the plant and the sweet taste in detail and gave it the less-than-sweet name of Stevia Rebaudiana. Bertoni wrote:
In placing in the mouth the smallest particle of any portion of the leaf or twig, one is surprised at the strange and extreme sweetness contained therein. A fragment of the leaf only a few square millimetres in size suffices to keep the mouth sweet for an hour, a few small leaves are sufficient to sweeten a strong cup of coffee or tea.”
Source: www.stevia.net/history.htm,
Then in 1908 the first crop of Stevia (an entire ton of dried leaves) was harvested. But it wasn’t until the 1930’s that Stevia gained international recognition, when two French scientists figured out how to extract the purest part of the sweetleaf plant to create a natural, great-tasting sugar substitute (or Rebaudioside A as the extract is known).
In the early 1970’s, Japan began cultivating Stevia as an alternative to artificial sweeteners and it continues to be widely used in Japan today in food products, soft drinks and for table use. Today, Stevia is grown and used in many other countries around the world as a natural table-top sweetener, in soft drinks, baked goods, confectioneries and chewing gum, to name but a few of its uses.
And now finally, (only a century after its discovery), New Zealanders have a chance to discover what South Americans have long known - that Stevia is a natural sweetener. Now this natural sweetness is available in Sweete, a great-tasting alternative to sugar and artificial sweeteners. Sweete 2g sachets have 3kJ of energy (about 1 Cal).
We apologise that it’s taken so long to get here, but as you can see, it’s been several centuries in the making.
Sources: www.stevia.net/history.htm; www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stevia  
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