Stevia is a plant of the Asteraceae (sunflower) family, the leaves of which have been used as a sweetener in South America for hundreds of years. Extracts from the stevia leaf have been available as food additives (sweeteners) and/or dietary supplements in many countries around the world.
Stevia extracts are made by water extraction and further refining of the sweet components of the stevia leaf.
Yes, stevia extracts (the short name for steviol glycosides) are the sweet compounds found in the leaves of the stevia plant, which is a small herb native to South America.
Stevia extracts are removed from the leaves of the stevia plant by traditional extraction methods which do not alter the composition of the plant’s sweet compounds. The process involves steeping the dried leaves of the stevia plant in water, filtering and separating the liquid from the leaves and stems, and further purifying the remaining plant extract with either water or food grade alcohol. Stevia extracts are exactly the same compound outside the leaf as they are found in the leaf.
In order for stevia extracts to be used in food, stevia extracts must strictly adhere to established specifications of identification and purity established by national and global food safety authorities. These specifications clearly indicate which food grade alcohols have been included in safety evaluations and are accepted for use in the extraction of steviol glycosides.
Furthermore, the CODEX General Standard for Food Additives requires that the established specification of identification and purity should be followed, and that all food additives comply with good manufacturing practices (GMPs). Members of the International Stevia Council fully support and comply with these laws and standards.
The members of the International Stevia Council are committed to the highest standards for the international stevia industry. All members of the International Stevia Council, as a condition of membership in the organization, have committed to producing stevia extracts which meet the specifications established by the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) which provide for the use of water and alcohol extraction in the production of steviol glycosides. The ISC has also established a leading-edge Proficiency Testing Program for steviol glycosides which helps stevia producers and the food industry continually improve methods of analysis for stevia extracts. This program provides food and beverage manufacturers an important tool in their due diligence efforts in ensuring that they are procuring stevia extracts that meet the legal requirements for use in food.
The definition and labeling requirements for natural vary country by country. In some markets, there are very precise and qualified requirements around the term natural. For instance, in the European Union, even products such as milk are not allowed to carry a natural claim. Regardless of the ability to use the term “natural” for labeling or marketing purposes, research conducted by members of the International Stevia Council clearly demonstrate both a global demand for calorie-free sweetness from a plant source as well as a full understanding that an extraction process is necessary to take place in order to release the sweetness of the stevia plant. The involvement of an extraction process does not impact consumer perception or acceptance of stevia extracts as natural nor do limitations on the term affect successful commercial product launches with stevia sweeteners.
The safety of stevia extracts has been extensively reviewed and scientifically proven by numerous international organizations, such as the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Studies of stevia extracts clearly support the safety of these ingredients. Further, clinical studies show that stevia extracts meeting purity criteria established by JECFA have no effect on either blood pressure or blood glucose response, indicating that stevia extracts are safe for use by persons with diabetes.
Over the last two years, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stated it has no questions regarding the conclusion of expert panels that Rebaudioside A is Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) for use as a general purpose sweetener. To date, the FDA has stated that it has no questions in response to a number of separate stevia extract GRAS notifications.
There are no known side effects or allergies from the use of stevia extracts in foods and beverages.
Stevia extracts have excellent solubility in a wide range of applications.
Stevia extracts are extremely heat, photo and pH stable under a wide range of processing conditions and have exhibited excellent shelf stability.
Research has shown that stevia extracts do not affect blood glucose levels or interfere with insulin. With effectively zero calories, stevia extracts offer people with diabetes greater variety and flexibility in budgeting total calorie intake and assisting with weight management. Stevia extracts do not have an effect on GI, at the levels of use.
Stevia extracts can be used in a wide variety of food and beverage applications. Individual usages and use levels may vary depending on the country. They act synergistically when used in combination with other sweeteners.
Stevia extracts can be from 50 – 450 times sweeter than sugar, depending on the application and amount and/or extract used. A simple way to measure the sweetness would be a sensory comparison with the sweetness of sugar in a water solution.
Hundreds of new products are being launched each year made with stevia extracts across a wide range of countries and products from table top sweeteners to beverages. Stevia extracts have become particularly common in Asia, South America and now the United States.
Stevia extracts contribute effectively zero calories.
Stevia plants are not genetically modified. Development of new plant varieties takes place by selective breeding and not genetic modification.