Stevia plant providing range of new, natural sugar alternatives

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 10th June 2008

The efforts of one man 25 years ago to bring a native plant from Paraguay to the United States is on the verge of changing the way America eats. Available online and in US grocery store aisles for the first time is an all-natural, zero-calorie, zero-carb, zero-glycemic index alternative to sugar.

“No pun intended, but for me, this day is sweet victory,” said Jim May, CEO and founder of Wisdom Natural Brands, the makers of SweetLeaf Sweetener. May was, according to Wisdom Natural Brands, the pioneer who realized the potential of the Stevia plant when visiting Paraguay.

A number of companies have been working with the stevia plant to create new sweeteners and Mr May is excited to get this version to the market before most of the competition. “We have been working behind the scenes for months to get SweetLeaf Sweetener to market before any of our competitors, and now that we see they won’t have product available until much later, we definitely have a competitive advantage,” May indicated.

Long used in the United States as a dietary supplement and nutritional additive, Stevia is a naturally sweet plant, native to Paraguay, that is 30 times sweeter than sugar. The pure glycosides that are extracted from the Stevia leaves are up to 400 times sweeter than sugar.

To date, more than 1,000 scientific studies and abstracts prove SweetLeaf Sweetener a safe and healthy alternative to sugar and man-made artificial sweeteners. “Despite the claims of other sweeteners, this is truly the first and only all natural, calorie-free, completely safe alternative to sugar,” May argued.

Coca-Cola and Cargill have, however, also reportedly created a zero-calorie sweetener using the stevia plant.

Research published in the peer-reviewed scientific Journal Food and Chemical Toxicology establishes the safety of rebiana (common name for high-purity Rebaudioside A from stevia) for general use to sweeten foods and beverages, according to experts at Cargill and The Coca-Cola Company.

Cargill consider rebiana to be the first consistent, high-purity sweetener composed of rebaudioside A, the best-tasting part of the stevia leaf.

Cargill, in partnership with The Coca-Cola Company, has developed rebiana over a number of years as a natural, zero-calorie ingredient, which will be marketed by Cargill under the brand name ‘TRUVIA’.

“These newly published data complement the body of existing scientific research on steviol glycosides, the sweet components of the stevia leaf,” said Leslie Curry, regulatory and scientific affairs director, Cargill Food and Ingredient Systems. “The rebiana research program affirmed positive safety data from earlier studies on purified steviol glycosides and addressed unresolved questions resulting from studies with crude stevia extracts.”

Zanna McFerson, business director for Cargill Health and Nutrition, believes the sweetener will prove popular as consumers demand healthier food alternatives. “TRUVIA natural sweetener was developed to meet the strong consumer demand for a natural, zero calorie way to sweeten foods and beverages,” she said. “Rebiana provides a new great tasting alternative that meets that demand. The results of this research program pave the way to bring this long sought after sweetener to U.S. consumers.”

Cargill believe, in contrast to Wisdom Natural Brands, that rebiana will be the first available sweetener for foods and beverages that has been purified from the stevia plant.

As to which company was first to release a zero-calorie sweetener it is hard to judge, but one thing is sure, the new, natural sweeteners threaten to have a major impact on the food industry in the decades ahead.

The sweeteners are anticipated to be used for a variety of purposes, such as in baking and beverages.