Stevia rebaudiana, commonly known as sweet leaf, sugarleaf, or stevia, is widely grown and harvested for its sweet leaves. A member of the sunflower family, stevia is native to the Southwestern United States and South America’s subtropical and tropical regions.

Stevia has been used medicinally by indigenous South American populations for over 1,500 years, and the herb has been used as a sweetener in Japan for several decades. The United States was late to the party, and finally approved the herb for use as a food additive in 2008.

Steviol glycocide – the compound found in stevia that is responsible for the plant’s sweetness – is said to be up to 300 times sweeter than sugar! The leaves themselves are said to be between 35 and 40 times sweeter than sugar.

Stevia extract also has a negligible impact on blood glucose (and may even enhance glucose tolerance!), making it an excellent sweetener alternative for diabetics and individuals on reduced-carbohydrate diets.

Since its approval in 2008, stevia has also been gaining popularity with the general population as a safe, natural, calorie-free sugar substitute. Stevia is now widely available in pure liquid or powder form, as a component in Truvia and PureVia, and is used to sweeten a number of popular soft drinks.

Our Picks:

A few of our favorite stevia products are outlined below. Feel free to weigh in with your picks in the comments section below!

  1. Liquid Stevia: Liquid stevia is now manufactured under several brand names in a variety of flavors. SweetLeaf makes a chemical-free, zero-calorie liquid stevia in 16 delicious flavors including root beer, watermelon, chocolate grape, and english toffee, among others! NOW Foods, Kal and NuNaturals also produce several flavors of liquid stevia.
  2. Pure Powdered Stevia: SweetLeaf sells 100% natural stevia powder in 4 oz. shaker jars. The powder is also available from NOW Foods in a variety of sizes (including individual packets), and from Kal in two jar sizes. Kal also manufactures an interesting looking stevia-luo han powder blend.
  3. Stevia Blends: Truvia is a zero-calorie sweetener made from a blend of erythritol, stevia, and natural flavors. It’s available in individual packets (equivalent to 2 teaspoons of sugar) as well as larger jars. PureVia is a calorie-free sweetener comprised of dextrose/maltodexrin, stevia, and natural flavors. It is available in individual packets and a 4 oz. jar.
  4. Natural Beverages: Zevia is an all-natural, calorie-free, stevia-sweetened soft drink. It’s available in 15 amazing flavors, including 11 caffeine-free varieties. The company sources only United States-grown stevia. Blue Sky Free‘s Truvia-sweetened sodas come in 7 unique flavors. All flavors are gluten- and caffeine-free.

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Image Credit: douneika/Flickr