Thursday, February 12, 2009

Random plant event: Stevia rebaudiana flowers

Stevia rebaudiana, "sweet herb," is a weird one. So much hype about the plant being the Next Big Sweetener on-line that I don't really know what to think: maybe it's going to save us all from high-fructose corn syrup poisoning; maybe it's going to give us all cancer. Probably it will do neither. The story varies pretty predictably according to the interests of the teller (if somebody tells you it's bad or dangerous, ask if they're connected to the corn, corn syrup, or sugar industry in some way), but at the same time it seems much too good to be true. Sweeter than sugar, non-toxic, non-mutagenic, and infinitely processible? Yeah, so was saccharin. So was cyclamate. So was aspartame. So was sucralose (Splenda).1 Granted that all of those were artificial to some degree or another (with aspartame being the most nearly natural), and stevia extract at least comes from a living organism, but . . . I don't know. So does sugar, and look at all the problems that's caused.

I'm also not convinced by the Stevia promoters' claims that it's been safely used by Native Americans in Paraguay for hundreds of years, either. What was the average lifespan of a Native American in Paraguay "hundreds of years" ago? Hmmm?

The plant itself is nothing to get excited about. A little weedy-lookin'. Not a problem child in the greenhouse. I don't know what it would be like to try to grow indoors, but I think Jordan and Annah were planning to attempt it at one time.

It's not a huge seller, either. (Whether this is because pre-processed stevia sweetener is already available in the grocery store, or because people are just not that interested in another sugar substitute, I don't know.) The flowers are tiny, and therefore hard to photograph. I haven't tried to propagate it, but I bet there's an easy way: seeds, or cuttings, or something. It just has that look, like it'd be easy to propagate.

So but anyway. It remains to be seen what the future holds for Stevia. Anybody tried eating it yet? Cooking with it? Will I like it better than Splenda? Will the Lords of High-Fructose Corn Syrup strangle it in the crib?


1 Which, by the way, I hate passionately, and cannot understand how anybody can manage to eat it. Not that it's not sweet, but the aftertaste, which I cannot find words adequate to describe (I tried several metaphors but they all wound up involving Amy Winehouse.), turns my stomach. Give me the good old metallic saccharin aftertaste any day.


Anonymous said...

Hi, I have baked with stevia. It works out well and considering that one cup of sugar is equal to one tablespoon of stevia it ends up costing about the same. I know what you mean about the aftertaste of Splenda, that was the main reason that I tried stevia.

Anonymous said...

Supposedly it also *inhibits* tooth decay.

I've tasted raw stevia, and it's pretty good. Too bad I don't have a sweet tooth.

I always wanted to try growing it as a houseplant, but can't find it here in cold, dank Nor. Cal.


Jordan said...

Hey Mr. Subjunctive,

I just found this post with the reference to our stevia plant...and unfortunately the plant did not survive for us when we tried to grow it indoors, but perhaps we will try it again!

Keep up the great work with your blog!

Darrel said...

Stevia gets good reviews from me. I'm not looking for a sugar substitute, as I'm not overweight (and rarely use sugar, anyway); I simply bought the plant on impulse at Lowe's and popped it in an appropriate spot in the garden. It's a very low maintenance plant, provided you water it regularly (it's a little thirstier than is average). I followed instructions found on the net for harvesting, drying, grinding, and then using the leaves for a gallon of sweet tea. I used more ground leaves than was suggested, because I filtered them out of the water/tea after boiling/steeping with a coffee filter and funnel (and I think I'll double up on the amount of ground leaves next time). The tea turned out really good, although (again) I'll try and make it sweeter next time. I was impressed with stevia's sweetening power and taste, and I don't impress easily!

Anonymous said...

Try the stevia in its natural way: the plant, is sweet and bingo! its a natural sweet - not like the aspartamo...and the stevia in pills (sorry I am Spanish so my english is not very rich)is not natural either. If you try sea water(1/4)+normal water(3/4)+stevia+lemon juice... you´ll love it!