The use of stevia as a sweetener is in vogue. It is used by diabetics, dieters or those who seek to sweeten their drinks and desserts without sugar. In the market, it is easy to find dried packaged leaves, but it is also very easy to grow it in the garden if you have a piece of free land. Today we are going to tell you how to take care of the stevia plant to obtain our natural sweetener.
Large companies have realized that the natural sells and have invaded the market with stevia derived sweeteners. If you read the list of ingredients, you will see that most of these packaged products have a very small amount of the plant mixed with other chemical sweeteners (saccharin, aspartame, etc). That is why we decided to buy the dried stevia leaves in the herbalist shop long ago, until this summer, finally, we planted it in the garden.
The stevia or stevia plant
Stevia is a genus of tropical shrubs composed of more than 200 species. Of all of them, the Stevia rebaudiana variety, also called green stevia, is the one used as a sweetener. In general, all varieties have several different glycosides (sweet compounds) in their leaves, but rebaudiana is the one that contains more steviol, a substance much sweeter than sugar.
This sweet plant originated in South America, although it has been used in many countries for hundreds of years as a natural sweetener. It owes its name to Pedro Jaime Esteve (16th-century Spanish botanist and doctor), who first investigated the plant with others who arrived in Valencia from the northeast of the territory that is now Paraguay. In 1900, the Paraguayan chemist Ovid Rebaudi published the first chemical analysis made of it. In this analysis, Rebaudi discovered a glycoside (rebaudioside A) capable of sweetening 200 times more than refined sugar, but without the counterproductive effects of the latter on the human organism. The species was officially baptized in his honor as Eupatorium rebaudiana or Stevia rebaudiana.
The rebaudioside A, which causes the sweet taste of the plant, is a molecule composed of glucose and steviol with a structure that the gastric juices of our stomach cannot break down. Therefore, despite containing glucose, it does not raise the glycemic index, nor does it provide calories. This is the reason why diabetics can consume this sweetener without a problem.
We will not dedicate the post to deepen the properties and benefits that the plant may have. The food security agencies of each country already devote many resources to it; but we would like to clarify some basic ideas about sweeteners, including also natural ones:
- All sweeteners, caloric or non-caloric, can contribute to weight gain or prevent weight loss
- Sweeteners of natural origin (such as stevia) are always a better option than those produced in a laboratory (saccharin, aspartame, etc.)
- Regardless of its origin, it is always better to minimize the consumption of sweeteners
Grow stevia in the garden
Stevia is a perennial shrub about 90 cm tall with straight and hairy stems from which lanceolate and jagged leaves sprout, with the rough surface and bright dark green. This plant does not like very dry or excessively humid soils, so it is advisable to keep the substrate slightly damp, with light and frequent watering.
It can be grown both in the garden soil and in pots. In both cases, you need fertile and well-drained soil. If it is planted in a container, it may be convenient to put a gravel base at the bottom to prevent water from stalling inside. With a layer of mulch on the soil surface, we will retain the soil moisture.
Due to its tropical origin, stevia needs warm temperatures to thrive and can not withstand frost. Since it can be grown in pots, it can be taken outside in summer and taken indoors if it is very cold in winter.
Stevia prefers sunny places, although it tolerates some shade as long as it is not very dense. The intensity of the solar radiation that the plant receives determines how sweet its leaves will be, so experts recommend placing it where it receives the afternoon sun. They also advise avoiding windy areas.
We plant our plant in the garden, in spring. The space is not deep, but loose, and the stevia has grown very well. We water daily for drippers and receive the sun in the afternoon. It has not had any problem with insects and diseases, although we do not use any pesticides in this area. The soil is rich since we incorporate organic matter (horse and sheep manure) in late winter. The only mishap that has suffered was that the wind-bent a few weeks ago, but we picked it up and fastened to a tripod that we made with reeds.
Now it is beginning to bloom. The flowers are tiny, without much interest, but they indicate the ideal time to prune the plant and dry the leaves. Just before flowering, it is the time of greatest concentration of sweet compounds in the leaves.
How to use garden stew to sweeten
The first thing to note is that any plant in the garden or garden that we want to use as food should not have been treated with chemical pesticides or, if used, the instructions indicated by the manufacturers must be followed to the letter. Regarding security terms.
Use of fresh leaves
Fresh stevia leaves can be used as a sweetener in drinks, such as tea, infusions, and juices, or in sauces. The fresh leaves of this plant are less sweet than dried ones, but still, they are much sweeter than sugar. Try putting a small amount at the beginning and add something else if you want more sweetness.
With dried stevia leaves you can prepare a powdered sweetener. Group and hang the fresh stems of the plant upside down in a warm and dry place until the leaves are completely dry. Then separate the leaves from the stems and, with a food processor or coffee grinder, crush them into powder. Store ground stevia in an airtight container. The powder can be incorporated into recipes that require a sweetener but be careful with the amount you use because it is very sweet. A general rule indicates that 2 tablespoons of stevia powder equal 1 cup of sugar.
With dried stevia leaves you can make a syrup to sweeten drinks, sauces, and food. Mix a cup of warm water with a quarter cup of freshly crushed stevia leaves. Place the mixture in an airtight container and let it sit for 24 hours before straining to remove the leaves. If you wish, you can heat the mixture over low heat to reduce it and get a more concentrated syrup. The syrup should last a long time if stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
The intention of this post is not to recommend the consumption of stevia, just to tell our experience and provide useful information about its uses and cultivation. You should not rely on the information on this website as an alternative to the advice of your doctor, pharmacist or nutritionist. If you want to substitute sugar for any other sweetener, we advise you to consult with it.