The Best Way to Use Stevia
What is the best and safest alternative to sugar? That really depends on what you're trying to sweeten. There are a lot of natural sweeteners on the market these days. For example, you could use evaporated cane juice, which is an unrefined cane sugar with its natural minerals intact. This is definitely a good choice if you really want the flavor of cane sugar, but you can probably do better for most purposes.
Sweeteners that are even less refined include maple syrup and honey. Raw honey in particular is said to have healing properties ranging from antibacterial action to reducing allergy symptoms. Some other good options include rice malt syrup and coconut sugar. Each of these products has its own flavor, nutritional profile and baking qualities, so try a few out and see which you like best.
Sugar and sweets are very, very popular, but pretty much everyone knows that we eat more of them than we should, even if we choose more natural sweeteners. There are quite a lot of products created to try to get around this problem, but most of them aren't all that healthy. Stevia is definitely one of the better options, but you have to know how to use it or things can go horribly wrong.
Stevia is actually an herb that just happens to have leaves with a powerfully sweet taste. This is due to high levels of chemicals called glycosides, which are made up of sugar molecules bonded to other molecules. Because of these natural bonds, the sugars will not be processed by your body in the usual harmful way. However, stevia powder (which is made of these extracted glycosides) actually tastes about 10 to 15 times sweeter than a similar amount of sugar.
There are a few issues with using stevia as an all-purpose sweetener, though. For one thing, the extract is so sweet that very little is required. This can be a problem in baking and other recipes where the bulk and chemical properties of sugar are just as important to the overall outcome of the product as the taste. For example, if you make cookies substituting a small amount of stevia for a few cups of sugar, they might taste sweet but have a very unusual texture. Ok, usually a pretty unappealing texture. There are some products that combine stevia extract with fillers to create a cup-for-cup replacement for sugar, which are probably the best solution if you really want to bake with stevia.
Personally, though, I find that stevia works best for foods where texture isn't a big issue. For example, I like to use liquid stevia extract in my tea. It does have a slightly different taste than sugar, but it has been pretty easy for me to get used to.
The other things about stevia extract is that although it might be healthier than sugar, it's not really a whole food. Various ingredients may be added, and the product is pretty far from the leaves of a plant. If you want to, though, you can easily make your own stevia extract at home, from whole ingredients.
Make Your Own Stevia Extract
Although stevia is healthier than most other sugar substitutes, it isn't necessarily as natural as you might think. Commercial stevia products sometimes have a variety of ingredients added and can be highly processed. Luckily, it's easy to make your own natural stevia extract.
- 1 C stevia leaves, fresh or dried
- vodka or other strong liquor
- Put the stevia in a jar with enough alcohol to cover the leaves, seal, and leave on the counter or in a cupboard for two to three days. Strain and discard the leaves, then use the extract to sweeten food and drinks. Be careful, though - keep in mind that stevia is extremely sweet!