Stevia, the natural sweetener scientifically known as steviol glycosides, has finally been approved as an ingredient in both foods and beverages in New Zealand and Australia after CQUniversity researched the sweetener for almost a decade and submitted their findings for four years. In early October 2008, FSANZ, the Australian food authority, has finally approved stevia.
Now, stevia is finally being considered across the globe as a sugar substitute because it is very sweet. Dietary supplements of stevia are sold in the United States and individuals in other countries like South Korea, Brazil, and Japan have been taking the stevia supplements for years.
Recently, interest in stevia has increased dramatically and Both Pepsi and Coca Cola have developed no calorie sweeteners from the super sweet stevia plant. Both are trying to have their secret sweetener approved for use in the United States. All beverages are not suitable to the stevia sweetener and Pepsi has noted that the best beverages to use the stevia sweetener would be citrus flavored.
CQUniversity’s Centre for Plant and Water Science submitted the initial application in Australia for every consumer, user, or grower that would potentially be interested in stevia. David Midmore, a professor at the University, explained the stevia application had been developed because it was recognized to be a potential cash crop for farmers. In cooperation with University’s Honorary Fellow and research officer Andrew Rank, Midmore has worked for almost a decade on stevia.
Midmore has stated the problem with going through the approval process is that no company would hold the patent since it is not a new invention. As a result, no company wants to spend the money and time on a product that would be available for every company’s use.
The extract from stevia leaves is called steviol glycosides and they are a type of sugar that is incredibly intense. In fact, they are 250 times sweeter than sugar and stevia can be used in any food or drink that currently claims sugar as one of its ingredients. Before stevia replaces sugar, however, it is believed it will replace chemical sweeteners like those used in diet colas and beverages.
The approval given by the FDA to the zero-calorie, all-natural sweetener stevia has steered strong debate over the safety of such sugar substitutes.
In December of 2008, two new brands containing sweet extracts of the shrub, Stevia Rebaudiana passed an FDA review. The two brands – Cargill’s Truvia which is owned by The Coca Cola Company and PepsiCo’s PureVia developed in collaboration with Merisant – are expected to arrive on department store shelves soon. The excitement in the industry is palpable, especially because these are the first all-natural stevia-based sweeteners that have been approved for use by the FDA for use as sweeteners.
Both Cargill and Merisant claim that they have managed to eliminate the natural licorice taste of the stevia leaves. The two soft drink giants will initially introduce stevia sweetened drinks and beverages in the market. Coca Cola is coming out with Sprite Green and Truvia. Pepsi is introducing several fruit flavors of SoBe Lifewaters sweetened with PureVia.
Amidst all the excitement, concerns are rising that the FDA has been hasty in granting approval to the stevia based sweeteners. According to Michel Jacobson, Head of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, studies have found a link between stevia and damage to genetic material. Tests also suggest that Rebaudioside A increases the risk of cancer. Jacobson is calling for more testing to be done before stevia is allowed to be added to foods and drinks.