Stevia is an all natural alternative to processed sugar with little to no calories. A member of the Chrysanthemum family, Stevia plants are native to South America and was originally discovered by the Guarani tribes, indigenous to Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil, who used it medicinally in teas. Named "ka'a he'e" or "sweet herb" by the tribes, the sweet plant was also used as an herbal remedy for heartburn and indigestion.
A fairly controversial plant in modern times, Stevia is banned in some countries due to lack of research on its effects and the fact that because it is naturally occurring, there is no patent for the herb. First used commercially in Japan, who remains the largest producer and consumer of Stevia and Stevia by products, it can be found in the United States in artificial sweeteners or as a dietary supplement. Also used in many weight loss and specialized diet foods because it has little to no caloric value, preliminary studies show that it does not raise blood glucose levels and may be more healthy for diabetics.
Culinary Uses for Stevia
Stevia is a great culinary herb and its leaves can be used to sweeten teas and drinks, custards, desserts and more. It is not recommended as a replacement for processed sugar when baking, as Stevia doesn't caramelize or crystallize like sugar does and this difference in chemical reactions when heated may not produce a flavorful or expected outcome. The leaves themselves have a faintly licorice like taste when used fresh and the plant is easy to grow if kept warm. It will continuously flower and will do best in doors in a pot or container if grown in a zone where the weather gets cold and rainy.