Stevia is my favorite non-calorie sweetener and did you know that right now you can purchase small stevia plants at most plant nurseries or big box garden stores? It is very easy to grow, so if you are growing some herbs this summer, or even if you are not, you might want to consider a stevia plant on your windowsill or in your herb garden. Actually, you may want to consider growing several, having a fall harvest and a year’s supply of stevia. Once you are growing your own stevia, you will have an endless supply of healthy, almost free sweetener.
Stevia is a completely natural sweetener with zero calories. It is much sweeter than sugar. Three to four teaspoons of dried stevia leaves will replace one cup of refined sugar, however, with many recipes such as cakes or cookies you cannot make a one to one substitute because of the difference in liquid. Also, in some recipes sugar is necessary for carmelization and thickening. That being said, stevia can save you a lot of calories and the fresh leaves are very good. Also, dried stevia leaves will keep for several years if stored like herbs: well sealed and in a cool, dark place.
I use stevia all day long. I mainly use it to sweeten my teas, smoothies, oats, spritzers and sangrias. I find that the fresh stevia leaves do not have any artificial after taste as the purchased powder does – although I think its aftertaste is not bad. For drinks I simply take a leaf or two off the plant and add it to my drink or into the blender.
Later this summer we will discuss harvesting, drying and storing our leaves as well as making your own stevia extract. We will also discuss wintering over your plants.