It’s been called the holy grail of herbs; food manufacturers have thrown fortunes at researching it, dieticians sing its praises. And ever-determined to grow something new each year, I’ll shortly be sowing some Stevia seeds.
Stevia is a perfectly average natural plant, whose leaves just happen to taste sweeter than sugar. Lots sweeter. It’s been popular as a natural and healthy sweetener in South America and the Far East for a long time but only lately has it started to appear in Britain.
We can now buy tubs of stevia extract in health food shops, big brand sugars with it blended in, and soft drinks which use it in place of the somewhat controversial artificial sweeteners like aspartame. I tried the green Coca Cola in the photo and to my taste it’s just like ‘the real thing’.
There’s a slightly complicated situation with stevia’s approval by the food agencies. The extract (glycosides) is approved as a food additive but the pure leaves aren’t. It’s very unlikely that there are any problems with the leaves; the research and testing to approve them as a foodstuff just hasn’t taken place yet. Therefore the seeds above have to be labelled as being ‘for decorative use’.
I plan to use my home grown leaves au naturel: steeping them in a hot drink to sweeten it, drying and crushing them and sprinkling the powder into desserts and so on.
It looks pretty easy to grow but sowing time isn’t until March, so it’ll be a little while yet but I’m very much looking forward to trying it.