When it comes to foods and beverages, consumers want their products to taste good. Many also want them to be low-calorie.

Meet stevia.

Stevia is a plant in the chrysanthemum family native to Paraguay, and its leaf is a unique source of intense, natural sweetness. Sweeteners made from stevia, which can be used in food and beverage products, are from natural plant origin and have zero calories.

While that may sound magical, stevia has actually been around for centuries, when originally indigenous Paraguayans used it to sweeten drinks. Only since 2008, however, have certain sweeteners made from stevia been deemed safe for use in foods and beverages by the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), an international scientific committee.

In 2011, the European Food Safety Authority made a similar determination and authorized the use of steviol glycosides (stevia) as a sweetener in foods and beverages. In fact, sweeteners made from stevia are permitted in more than 75 countries around the world.

As companies innovate and find ways to incorporate sweeteners made from stevia into their products, more low- and no-calorie, naturally sweetened options will become available. That’s sweet news for people looking to enjoy the taste of their food and beverage choices while trying to manage their weight.

Here are several facts about stevia:

  • Stevia leaves are harvested and dried once they reach their peak sweetness. In a process similar to steeping tea, the dried stevia leaves are soaked in water to unlock the best-tasting, sweet substance found in the leaf, and then it’s purified. The finished ingredient is a high-purity sweetener that can be used in combination with other natural sweeteners like sugar and fruit juice to deliver great-tasting low-, no- and reduced-calorie beverages.
  • Sweeteners made with stevia are 200-350 times sweeter than table sugar yet add zero calories to the foods and beverages in which they are used.
  • Sweeteners made with stevia have a long history of use around the world, including in Japan and Paraguay, and they are permitted for use in many countries including Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, France, Ghana, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Nigeria, Peru, Russia, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey, Uruguay and the United States.
  • Stevia-based sweeteners are used in products such as beverages, breads, desserts, pickled foods, sauces, yogurt and as a tabletop sweetener.
  • The scientific and industry names for the form of stevia used in foods and beverages include stevia leaf extract, stevia extract, Rebaudioside A or Reb A, and steviol glycosides.
Voila. The introduction has been made. Next time you pick up a product that contains a sweetener made from stevia, consider your choice sweetly informed.

Download an infographic titled “From the Plant to the Table: Sweet Truths About Stevia.”