Stevia has become an increasingly popular natural sweetener in recent years. Derived from the leaves of the stevia plant native to South America, it provides a sweet taste while adding minimal calories and carbohydrates to foods and beverages.
Stevia comes in a variety of forms, including powders and liquids. Understanding the key differences between liquid and powdered stevia can help you determine which option may work best for your needs.
What is Stevia?
Stevia is a natural sweetener extracted from the leaves of the stevia plant (Stevia rebaudiana). It contains compounds called steviol glycosides, which provide an intensely sweet flavor 200-400 times sweeter than sugar.
Unlike sugar, stevia has very few calories and carbs and does not raise blood sugar levels. This makes it popular for low-carb, ketogenic, and diabetic diets.
The full stevia leaf and crude (unrefined) extracts are not approved for use as sweeteners in foods and beverages in the U.S. due to insufficient safety information. However, highly purified stevia extracts made from steviol glycosides are considered generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the FDA.
Liquid stevia products typically contain stevia leaf extract dissolved in water, alcohol, or glycerin. They often have added natural flavors to help mask stevia's bitter aftertaste.
Benefits of liquid stevia:
- Convenient for sweetening beverages
- Easy to add to foods while cooking and baking
- Provides pure stevia extract with no extra fillers
- Shelf-stable once opened
Downsides of liquid stevia:
- Not as concentrated as powder forms
- Less versatile for baking
- Glycerin or alcohol carriers may not be appropriate for some diets
Popular brands of liquid stevia include SweetLeaf, NuNaturals,NOW Foods, and Trader Joe's.
Powdered stevia contains stevia leaf extract in powdered form rather than dissolved in a liquid. The powder is created through spray drying or freeze drying methods.
Many powdered stevia products also contain bulking agents like erythritol, cellulose, inulin fiber, and maltodextrin. These help provide volume and texture while reducing bitterness.
Benefits of powdered stevia:
- More versatile for baking and cooking
- Allows substitution spoon-for-spoon for sugar
- Higher concentration of stevia extract
- Inulin fiber additions may provide prebiotic benefits
Downsides of powdered stevia:
- Added fillers increase processing and decrease purity
- Can clump if exposed to moisture
- Less portable than liquid forms
Popular powdered stevia brands include Truvía, Pyure, SweetLeaf,NOW Foods, and Stevia in the Raw.
Stevia Conversion Guide
The sweetness of stevia can vary substantially depending on the form and brand:
|100-250 times sweeter than sugar
|1/4 tsp = 1 cup sugar
|200-400 times sweeter than sugar
|1/3-1/2 tsp = 1 cup sugar
It's important to note concentration on labels, as a pure stevia extract will be far sweeter than a product diluted with bulking agents.
When using a new brand, begin with a small amount and adjust to taste. For baking, sugar substitution ratios may need refinement through trial and error.
Key Takeaway: Liquid stevia offers convenience and purity, while powdered stevia provides higher concentration and versatility. Check sweetness and added ingredients when choosing products.
There are over 40 different glycoside compounds in stevia leaves that contribute flavor and sweetness. The main types include:
- Stevioside - The most abundant glycoside, but also the most bitter
- Rebaudioside A - Between 250 and 450 times sweeter than sugar with less bitterness
- Rebaudioside C - Provides a cleaner sweet taste
- Rebaudioside D - Promoted as "more sugar-like" in newer stevia products
- Rebaudioside M - Also described as close to sugar, with less bitterness
Higher purity products that isolate rebaudioside A and other components tend to taste better than whole leaf stevia powder or less processed extracts.
Choosing the Best Stevia
When evaluating a stevia sweetener, here are some key factors to consider:
Type of extracts: Rebaudioside A has a better taste profile than stevioside extracts. Products with rebaudioside C, D, and M may taste more sugar-like.
Level of processing: More refinement generally leads to better taste but less nutritional value.
Added ingredients: Bulking agents like erythritol, inulin, and cellulose are common. Check for higher purity options if desirable.
Flavor and sweetness: Concentration can range widely, so adjust amount to taste and intended use.
Safety: Look for established stevia brands and confirmation of GRAS status. Avoid crude or whole leaf products.
Price and value: Stevia is typically priced as a premium sweetener. Compare concentration, processing method, and additions between products.
Stevia can be substituted for sugar in hot or cold beverages, added to smoothies, yogurt, oatmeal, desserts, salad dressings, and more. Follow package guidance or adjust recipes to account for increased sweetness.
Baking with stevia takes some trial and error. Sugar plays functional roles in caramelization, moisture retention, texture development and more - functions not replicated by non-nutritive sweeteners.
Blends with sugar alcohols like erythritol help counter structural differences. You may also need to increase liquids or leaveners to achieve the desired rise.
Is Stevia Safe?
The FDA has approved highly purified steviol glycosides from stevia leaves as safe sweetening ingredients.
However, insufficient evidence exists to confirm the safety of whole leaf stevia or crude extracts. Diabetics and those with phenylketonuria should also use caution with stevia due to its sweetness and steviol structure respectively.
While generally considered safe in food amounts, there have been rare reports of allergic reactions, bloating, dizziness, muscle pain, and drops in blood pressure associated with higher doses of stevia. Those with underlying health conditions should exercise care when increasing intake substantially.
Key Takeaway: Look for FDA-approved purified stevia extracts like rebaudioside A. Start with small amounts and discontinue use if any side effects occur.
What does stevia taste like?
Stevia has a distinct sweet taste that some describe as bitter or licorice-like. Higher purity products tend to taste cleaner, while whole leaf stevia has more bitterness. Sweetness perception varies individually as well.
Is powder or liquid stevia better?
Both liquid and powdered stevia have their merits. Liquid may be more versatile and portable, while powdered packs a higher concentration of sweetness. Choose based on taste preference and intended uses.
Can you bake with stevia?
Yes, stevia can be used in baked goods with some recipe adjustments to account for differences in bulk, texture, and caramelization. Blends with sugar alcohols help counter structural changes from sugar removal.
Is stevia natural?
The stevia plant and its extracts are natural. However, to achieve a palatable, high-purity product, the sweet glycosides go through extensive processing and filtration. Synthetic glycoside production methods also exist, so check labeling.
Is stevia safe for diabetics?
Yes, stevia does not raise blood sugar levels and can help diabetics reduce sugar and carb intake while still enjoying sweet flavors. Monitor glycemic response with use nonetheless, as tolerance varies individually. Moderation is key.
With its intense sweetness and low calorie and carb profile, stevia appeals to health-conscious consumers as a sugar substitute. Both liquid and powdered stevia products provide options to add flavor without extra calories.
Pay attention to concentration to achieve desired sweetness, and check labels for purity and additions like sugar alcohols or bulking fibers. Quality can vary substantially between products and forms.