The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Lifestyles

April 2, 2014

Amanda Stone: Tweaks can make stevia even sweeter

CARTHAGE, Mo. — Stevia is nature's answer for our sweet needs. It has no calories, no carbs and doesn't raise blood sugar, yet it's 300 times sweeter than cane sugar. And we can grow it in in our own backyards.

Ideally we wouldn't crave sweet food and drinks; fruit should be enough to satisfy a craving. That's pretty laughable, as we all know. Despite my clean eating efforts, I get a mad sweet craving like everybody else.

Stevia is the solution. It's become pretty mainstream, found in any grocery store next to the packets of artificial sweetener. I love that stevia is becoming popular, but there's a problem. The stevia sold in the food section is highly processed and includes junky ingredients. The only ingredient in stevia should be stevia.

Remember that almost anything ending in "ose" is sugar. Who knows what the other ingredients are. Go to the supplement section of the store and buy powdered or liquid stevia extract instead.

Better yet, grow your own stevia plant. It's not as crazy as it sounds. Pinch a leaf and pop it in your mouth. One taste of the extreme stevia sweetness and you'll be sold. Stevia plants can be found at nurseries or anywhere that sells herbs. Place your stevia plant into a big pot, set it in the sun and water it. You'll have a stevia bush by the end of summer. People complain that stevia has a twang, or a metallic aftertaste. That taste is a result of processing. Grow your own plant and you won't taste anything but the sweetness of success.

One stevia plant, which will cost a little over a dollar, will make enough natural sweetener to last a year. Pluck the leaves and put them in a paper bag to dry. Once they're crunchy, grind them to powder in a coffee grinder. The powder will be green, unlike the stevia extract you can buy from the store. The extract comes from the dried, white veins of the stevia leaf; as a regular joe, you'll be including the entire leaf, which will make a green powder. Either is fine.

A friend laughed at the idea of making her own sweetener. She buys vanilla-flavored stevia at the grocery store and loves it. However, stevia with "natural flavors" isn't real food, so it makes sense that it would be placed right next to artificial sweeteners. Not only are there fillers in the stevia, but the "natural flavors" are synthesized so that you only experience the best fraction of that flavor. This tricks your taste buds into wanting more of that perfect flavor, which simply doesn't exist in nature.

The best way to use home grown stevia is to make sweet juice. Try the recipe below, and put it in a clean bottle with a shaker-lid like soy sauce or balsamic vinegar. Use one or two drops in your coffee, tea or anything else you want to be sweet. Just remember that stevia packs an ultra-sweet punch.

 

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