Stevia: the future of sweetness in Europe
When European farmers first began their crusade for recognition and diffusion properties of Stevia, they never imagined that one day an industrial extract of this plant would end up sweetening a Coca Cola beverage, labelled with a green sticker. Many of them are strong supporters of healthy eating and the battle against multinationals. Nowadays Coca Cola Coca Cola sells Coca Cola Life in Argentina and Chile. So these farmers and the multinational company finally seem to have something in common: Stevia, a highly sweetening plant native to South America whose properties have caused a heated debate. In 2011, the European Union authorized its use and, since then, many are expecting the boom of cultivation in the old continent
The ka’a he’e (in Guarani) is a plant native to Paraguay (where it was declared “genetic heritage”) called stevia because of Pedro Jaime Esteve, who brought it to Valencia in the sixteenth century. The dry leaf has a price between eight and ten euros per kilogram, its sweetening power is about 300 times that of sugar and its caloric content is zero. Because of all that, some consider it a treat, especially in economic terms. Suffice to think that, in order to make 400 kilos of chocolate, all it is needed is 200 grams of steviol. Because of its incredible proprieties many believe that Stevia will soon represent a mayor part of the sugar market.
Some farmers are trying to spread the benefits of the crop to household economies, avoiding large quantities, with a balance between plantation and the market, which is still not ready to absorb large quantities of Stevia.
Here lies the great paradox: many products are sweetened with steviol glycosides (stevia extract), like jams, chewing gum, chocolates, juices and colas, however marketing the leaf as food is prohibited. It is sold in health food stores, but it is illegal to mention its nutritional properties. So if you do not say anything to the consumer about it being an aliment, it is legal.
In November 2011, the EU authorized the use of steviol glycosides, put a name to the additive (E -960) and concluded that consumption below 4 mg per kilogram of body mass per day, may be considered healthy. Since 2000 the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) had been studying the properties of the plant and its extracts. Its American twin, the Food and Drugs Agency (FDA) approved steviol glycosides in 1995, whereas Japan legally put it on the market since since 1971.
Advocates of the crop attribute this delay to the interests of multinational sugar companies. Some even say that, although the European legislation should protect the consumers, it sometimes bans something healthy in order to defeat competition within a sector. Sugar is a gold mine for many indeed, as it generates a high degree of addiction, pleasure and relaxation. Nevertheless, nowadays we are aware of things which we did not know before, and replacing sugar with stevia would significantly reduce disease rates related to blood pressure, pancreas and insulin.
One of the consequences of the approval was the use of the new sweetener by the big multinational companies. Despite this, many argue that labelling some products with Stevia remains a façade, as some of those have a percentage of steviol glycosides around 1%. The consumer should therefor look out to find products which can truly be defined natural. In this respect, Nutrastevia is an ideal solution, as the Peruvian company is devoted to keeping its product as natural and healthy as possible.