We are still in the “herbs, spices and sweeteners” section of this Superhuman Food Pyramid series. The previous posts were about spices – but today’s topic is going to be about a plant that can be used as a substitute for sugar:
The stevia plant is a shrub and there are actually more than 200 species of it. The particular one that’s frequently utilized as a sweetener is Stevia rebaudiana. Not surprisingly, some common names of this specie of stevia are sweetleaf and sugarleaf.
It is said that stevia leaves have been used as both food and medicine by indigenous peoples in South America for around more than a millennia. The Western world first encountered it in the 16th century through Spanish physician Pedro Jaime Esteve. The genus Stevia was in fact derived from the Latinized form of his surname.
Setting aside the phytonutrients that naturally come from any food taken from a plant, the one apparently Superhuman quality of stevia is that it has all the sugary goodness we want but none of the health risks.
The fresh whole leaves of this plant are 10 to 15 times sweeter than ordinary table sugar. This is also true for herbal powdered stevia, which is the most commercially available form. If that isn’t enough, the refined and concentrated extracts can actually be up to 300 times sweeter.
We have all heard about the dangers of taking in too much sugar. But stevia, for all its exceptional sweetness, has in reality very little effect on blood glucose levels. This plant is probably the best news any diabetic or anyone on a low-carbohydrate diet can receive.
Steviol glycosides are the sugar compounds found in stevia leaves. The two major types identified are stevioside and rebaudioside A. Studies on these compounds have shown that it is the latter type that is sweeter and exhibits less of this plant’s characteristic bitter aftertaste which is said to be comparable to that of licorice.
These studies have also revealed that stevia adds zero calories, doesn’t cause digestive problems like other sweeteners – and the metabolic byproduct steviol passes through completely undigested without leaving residues in the kidneys or liver.
Stevia Practical Uses:
Those of us gifted with a green thumb can simply purchase stevia seeds and start growing them in the garden. We can then cut leaves as needed and put them in teas and other beverages for flavoring.
With a thriving shrub in the yard, we can go further and harvest more leaves to make our own supply of stevia herbal powder. We can either sun-dry them for around 12 hours or use a small home dehydrator. Then the dried leaves can be ground either with mortar and pestle or a coffee grinder.
There is also a way to make home-made liquid stevia extract. Allow a proportion of fresh crushed leaves to soak in water or in pure USP grain alcohol for 24 hours. Afterwards simply filter the leaves out of the liquid and use that resulting syrup as a sweetener. The alcohol method is said to be able to extract more of the glycosides but to remove the alcoholic taste, the liquid extract will have to be slowly heated (do not boil) until most of the alcohol evaporates.
Stevia can be used as a substitute for most recipes that use sugar. Just be aware of the enhanced sweetness. 1 tablespoon of powdered stevia is more or less equivalent to a cup of ordinary table sugar. Another thing to note is that this sweetener doesn’t caramelize so it won’t work for recipes that call for such a preparation.
In the next post, I’ll tell you how you can use xylitol in your quest to Become Superhuman.
In the meantime, if you care to jump ahead, here is a complete listing of the herbs, spices and sweeteners on Superhuman Food Pyramid:
If you have questions, comments or feedback about how to use stevia, the Superhuman Food Pyramid, this website, or other aspects of Becoming Superhuman, then leave your thoughts below, as well as any tips you have on how to use stevia.