Extracts of Stevia: the natural sweetener?

The stevia plant, a sweetener?

Be careful, the stevia plant is not allowed in the diet as a sweetener. Too many articles about rebaudioside A or stevia extracts make shortcuts that suggest that it is the plant itself that is allowed and found on our table or in products low in sugars.

Recall that only purified extracts of stevia are allowed as a new sweetener (food additive E960). The dried plant or leaves are not allowed in the dietary fibre. Stevia extracts, also known as steviol glycosides, must contain mainly rebaudioside A and stevioside (95% minimum).

Why ?

It is sometimes said that sugar companies or manufacturers of sweeteners have blocked the authorization in France or the United States. In fact, the reality is simpler: a few years ago, experts from the health authorities failed to rule on the safety of stevia extracts, as these mixtures varied in composition and purity. More recently, toxicological studies have focused on purified extracts, with a temporary authorization of 2 years for France, extended in November 2011 to the European Union (European Regulation No. 1131/2011).

They are allowed in a list of foods with maximum use doses (table sweeteners, fermented dairy products, ice creams, breakfast cereals, sweets, drinks and nectars, food supplements …). Due to a lack of data on their resistance to temperature, stevia extracts are not allowed in cooking products.

What are the properties of Stevia extracts?

Like other intense sweeteners, their sweetness is very high: about 200 to 350 times that of sugar replacement (saccharin: 300, aspartame: about 200); we put very little and they do not bring calorie, but they can not replace sugar everywhere for reasons of texture of the food, of conservation … They are a little more resistant than the aspartame with the cooking but the scientists consider that they are not stable beyond 100-120 ° C.

The glycosides of steviol (rebaudioside A, stevioside mainly) are extracted from the leaves of the stevia plant. They are therefore derived from nature such as sugar or honey and it is a marketing advantage over other sweeteners.

In the pure state, a licorice taste that accompanies the sweet taste: according to the applications, this licorice note is reduced with aromas or by associating the extracts of stevia with a little sugar.

The price: sold as table-top sweeteners, we find rebaudioside A or stevia extracts either in pure form or in variable percentage on a support type polyol or maltodextrins (mass agents), with added flavors; the prices per kg are therefore very variable.

What is the true nature of Stevia extracts?

Mentions of the type “natural sweetener” are not allowed; the natural origin can only be mentioned because it is obtained by extraction and successive purification from the leaves of the stevia plant.

There are other natural sweeteners allowed in Europe, but which have not developed much: thaumatin (extracted from a tropical fruit) and neohesperidin dihydrochalcone (extracted and modified from citrus peel).

Against received ideas

Stevia extracts are therefore the main plant-based, calorie-free intense sweetener available on the market.

Like other intense sweeteners, stevia extracts can help some people reduce calories while still eating sweet treats. But, nutritionists are well aware today, the reduction in calories will not be systematic on the overall diet, nor indeed the effect on the line. ANSES (1) concluded in its 2015 scientific analysis that there are no benefits or risks to the consumption of sweeteners.