The active compounds of stevia are steviol glycosides (mainly stevioside and rebaudioside), which have up to 150 times the sweetness of sugar, are heat-stable, pH-stable, and not fermentable. These steviosides have a negligible effect on blood glucose, which makes stevia attractive to people on carbohydrate-controlled diets. Stevia's taste has a slower onset and longer duration than that of sugar, and some of its extracts may have a bitter or licorice-like aftertaste at high concentrations.
The legal status of stevia extracts as food additives and supplements varies from country to country. In the United States, stevia was banned in 1991 after early studies found that it might be carcinogenic; after additional studies, the FDA approved some specific glycoside extracts for use as food additives in 2008. The European Union approved stevia additives in 2011, and in Japan, stevia has been widely used as a sweetener for decades.
The plant Stevia rebaudiana has been used for more than 1,500 years by the Guaraní peoples of South America, who called it ka'a he'ê ("sweet herb"). The leaves have been used traditionally for hundreds of years in both Brazil and Paraguay to sweeten local teas and medicines, and as a "sweet treat". The genus was named for Spanish botanist and physician Petrus Jacobus Stevus (Pedro Jaime Esteve 1500–1556) a professor of botany at the University of Valencia.
In 1899, Swiss botanist Moisés Santiago Bertoni, while conducting research in eastern Paraguay, first described the plant and the sweet taste in detail. Only limited research was conducted on the topic until in 1931 two French chemists isolated the glycosides that give stevia its sweet taste.
In the early 1970s, sweeteners such as cyclamate and saccharin were gradually decreased or removed from the formulation of Coca-Cola. Consequently, use of stevia as an alternative began in Japan, with the aqueous extract of the leaves yielding purified steviosides developed as sweeteners. The first commercial stevia sweetener in Japan was produced by the Japanese firm Morita Kagaku Kogyo Co., Ltd. in 1971. The Japanese have been using stevia in food products and soft drinks, (including Coca Cola), and for table use. Japan currently consumes more stevia than any other country, with stevia accounting for 40% of the sweetener market.
In the mid 1980s, stevia became popular in U.S. natural foods and health food industries, as a non-caloric natural sweetener for teas and weight-loss blends. The makers of the synthetic sweetener NutraSweet asked the FDA to require testing of the herb. In 2007 The Coca-Cola Company announced plans to obtain approval for its stevia-derived sweetener, Rebiana, for use as a food additive within the United States by 2009, as well as plans to market Rebiana-sweetened products in 12 countries that allow stevia's use as a food additive. In May 2008, Coca Cola and Cargill announced the availability of Truvia, a consumer brand stevia sweetener containing erythritol and Rebiana, which the FDA permitted as a food additive in December 2008. Coca-Cola announced intentions to release stevia-sweetened beverages in late December 2008. From 2013 onwards, Coca-Cola Life, containing stevia as a sweetener, was launched in various countries around the world.
Shortly afterward, PepsiCo and Pure Circle announced PureVia, their brand of stevia-based sweetener, but withheld release of beverages sweetened with rebaudioside A until receipt of FDA confirmation. Since the FDA permitted Truvia and PureVia, both Coca Cola and PepsiCo have introduced products that contain their new sweeteners.
As of 2006, China was the world's largest exporter of stevioside products.
Industrial extracts and derivatives
Stevia extracts and derivatives are produced industrially by many companies, and marketed under many trade names. Some of them are
- Rebiana: a sweetener containing mainly rebaudioside A.
- Truvia: the consumer brand for Rebiana marketed by Cargill and developed jointly with The Coca-Cola Company.
- PureVia: PepsiCo's brand of rebaudioside, a sweetener that was developed jointly with Whole Earth Sweetener Company.
- Enliten: Corn Products International's brand of rebaudioside A sweetener.
- Erylite Stevia: trade name for Jungbunzlauer's sweetener with rebaudioside A.
Mechanism of action
Glycosides are molecules that contain glucose and other non-sugar substances called aglycones (molecules with other sugars are polysaccharides). The tongue's taste receptors react to the glucose in the glycosides: those with more glucose (rebaudioside) taste sweeter than those with less (stevioside). Some of the tongue's bitter receptors react to the aglycones.
In the digestive tract, rebaudiosides are metabolised into stevioside. Then stevioside is broken down into glucose and steviol. The glucose released in this process is used by bacteria in the colon and not absorbed into the bloodstream. Steviol cannot be further digested and is excreted.
Safety and regulations
A 2009 review summarized the basic research in which steviosides and related compounds are being tested for possible anti-disease actions, with no effect yet demonstrated in humans. A 2011 review found that the use of stevia sweeteners as replacements for sugar might benefit diabetic patients because it is a non-caloric additive.
Although both steviol and rebaudioside A have been found to be mutagenic in laboratory in vitro testing, these effects have not been demonstrated for the doses and routes of administration to which humans are exposed. Two 2010 review studies found no health concerns with stevia or its sweetening extracts. However, experts have noted that few long-term studies exist.
The WHO's Joint Experts Committee on Food Additives has approved, based on long-term studies, an acceptable daily intake of steviol glycoside of up to 4 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. In 2010, The European Food Safety Authority established an Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) of 4 mg/kg/day of steviol, in the form of steviol glycosides. Meanwhile, the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center warns that "steviol at high dosages may have weak mutagenic activity."
Availability and legal status by country
The plant may be grown legally in most countries, although some countries restrict its use as a sweetener. The legally allowed uses and maximum dosage of the extracts and derived products vary widely from country to country.
- Argentina: available as of 2008, regulatory status uncertain.
- Australia and New Zealand:
- Brazil: stevioside extract approved as food additive since 1986:
- Canada (as of November 2012)
- Chile: available as of 2008, regulatory status uncertain.
- China: available since 1984, regulatory status uncertain.
- Colombia: available as of 2008, regulatory status uncertain.
- European Union: Steviol glycosides were approved and regulated as food additives by the European Commission on 11 November 2011.
- Hong Kong: steviol glycosides approved as food additives since January 2010
- India: Madhu-Tulsi (Sweeteners in Food Regulations; Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance). Draft approval by FSSAI on 23 March 2015 
- Indonesia: (2012)
- Steviol glycosides are available as food additives since 2012.
- Stevia leaf is available as a dietary supplement.
- Israel: approved as food additive since January 2012.
- Japan: widely available (since 1970)
- Korea: available as of 2008, regulatory status uncertain.
- Malaysia: available as of 2008, regulatory status uncertain.
- Mexico: mixed steviol glycoside extract (not separate extracts) approved since 2009.:
- Steviol glycoside approved as food additive (E 960) since June 2012.
- The plant itself has not been approved as of September 2012.
- Paraguay: available as of 2008, regulatory status uncertain.
- Peru: available as of 2008, regulatory status uncertain.
- Philippines: available as of 2008, regulatory status uncertain.
- Russian Federation: stevioside approved as food additive since 2008, in the "minimal dosage required" to achieve the goal.
- Saudi Arabia: available as of 2008, regulatory status uncertain.
- Singapore: steviol glycosides approved as food additive in certain foods, since 2005 Previously it was banned.
- Taiwan: available as of 2008, regulatory status uncertain.
- Thailand: available as of 2008, regulatory status uncertain.
- Turkey: available as of 2008, regulatory status uncertain.
- United Arab Emirates: available as of 2008, regulatory status uncertain.
- Uruguay: available as of 2008, regulatory status uncertain.
- United States (as of December 2008):
- Purified Rebaudioside A is allowed since December 2008 as a food additive (sweetener), sold under various trade names, and classified as "generally recognized as safe" ("GRAS").
- Stevia rebaudiana leaf and extracts are available as dietary supplements since 1995, but the 2008 FDA authorization does not extend to them, and they do not have GRAS status.
- Vietnam: available as of 2008, regulatory status uncertain.
Rebaudioside A has the least bitterness of all the steviol glycosides in the Stevia rebaudiana plant. To produce rebaudioside A commercially, stevia plants are dried and subjected to a water extraction process. This crude extract contains about 50% rebaudioside A. The various glycosides are separated and purified via crystallization techniques, typically using ethanol or methanol as solvent.
In 1991, after receiving an anonymous industry complaint, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) labeled stevia as an "unsafe food additive" and restricted its import. The FDA's stated reason was "toxicological information on stevia is inadequate to demonstrate its safety."
Since the import ban in 1991, marketers and consumers of stevia have shared a belief that the FDA acted in response to industry pressure. Arizona congressman Jon Kyl, for example, called the FDA action against stevia "a restraint of trade to benefit the artificial sweetener industry". To protect the complainant, the FDA deleted names in the original complaint in its responses to requests filed under the Freedom of Information Act.
Stevia remained banned until after the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 forced the FDA in 1995 to revise its stance to permit stevia to be used as a dietary supplement, although not as a food additive – a position that stevia proponents regarded as contradictory because it simultaneously labeled stevia as safe and unsafe, depending on how it was sold.
Early studies prompted the European Commission in 1999 to ban stevia's use in food in the European Union pending further research. In 2006, research data compiled in the safety evaluation released by the World Health Organization found no adverse effects.
In December 2008, the FDA gave a "no objection" approval for GRAS status to Truvia (developed by Cargill and The Coca-Cola Company) and PureVia (developed by PepsiCo and the Whole Earth Sweetener Company, a subsidiary of Merisant), both of which use rebaudioside A derived from the Stevia plant. However, FDA said that these products are not Stevia, but a highly purified product. In 2012, FDA posted a note on its website regarding crude Stevia plant: "FDA has not permitted the use of whole-leaf Stevia or crude Stevia extracts because these substances have not been approved for use as a food additive. FDA does not consider their use in food to be GRAS in light of reports in the literature that raise concerns about the use of these substances. Among these concerns are control of blood sugar and effects on the reproductive, cardiovascular, and renal systems."
- Asteraceae, botanical family containing Stevia
- Steviol glycoside, the chemical responsible for the sweetness
- Sugar substitute, primary usage of stevia
- Thaumatin, a natural sweetener, derived from an African fruit
- Miraculin, a substance that modifies the perception of sour foods into sweet.
- "Stevia". British & World English. Oxforddictionaries.com. 7 February 2013. Retrieved 13 February 2013.
- "Stevia". US English. Oxforddictionaries.com. 7 February 2013. Retrieved 13 February 2013.
- Both // and // are recorded by at least some US and UK dictionaries, but the former is more common in US English (listed first or exclusively) and the latter is more common in UK English.
- H.M.A.B. Cardello, M.A.P.A. Da Silva, M.H. Damasio (1999). "Measurement of the relative sweetness of stevia extract, aspartame and cyclamate/saccharin blend as compared to sucrose at different concentrations". Plant Foods for Human Nutrition 54 (2): 119–129. doi:10.1023/A:1008134420339.
- Raji Akintunde Abdullateef, Mohamad Osman (1 January 2012). "Studies on effects of pruning on vegetative traits in Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni (Compositae)". International Journal of Biology 4 (1). doi:10.5539/ijb.v4n1p146.
- Natalie Digate Muth. "The Truth About Stevia—The So-called "Healthy" Alternative Sweetener". Retrieved 18 August 2015.
- Lucas, Louise (2011). "Brussels backs Stevia sweetener". Financial Times. Retrieved 22 November 2011.
- Stones, Mike (2011). "Stevia wins final EU approval". foodmanufacture.co.uk. Retrieved 22 November 2011.
- "Truvia timeline" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 1 January 2010.
- Misra, H.; Soni, M.; Silawat, N.; Mehta, D.; Mehta, B. K.; Jain, D. C. (April 2011). "Antidiabetic activity of medium-polar extract from the leaves of Stevia rebaudiana Bert. (Bertoni) on alloxan-induced diabetic rats". J Pharm Bioallied Sci 3 (2): 242–8. doi:10.4103/0975-7406.80779. PMC 3103919. PMID 21687353.
- Parsons, WT; Cuthbertson, EG (2001). Noxious Weeds of Australia, 2nd ed. Collingswood, Australia: CSIRO Publishing. ISBN 978-0-643-06514-7., page 309.This reference refers specifically to Stevia eupatoria, a related weed having the same nomenclature origin.
- Bertoni, Moisés Santiago (1899). Revista de Agronomia de l'Assomption 1: 35. Missing or empty
- Bridel, M.; Lavielle, R. (1931). "Sur le principe sucre des feuilles de kaa-he-e (stevia rebaundiana B)". Academie des Sciences Paris Comptes Rendus (Parts 192): 1123–5.
- "Stevia". Morita Kagaku Kogyuo Co., Ltd. 2004. Retrieved 6 November 2007.
- Jones, Georgia (September 2006). "Stevia". NebGuide: University of Nebraska–Lincoln Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Retrieved 4 May 2007.
- Zeavin, Edna. "The Outlaw Herbal Sweetener". East West Journal. February 1988. p. 28. "Stevia, also called sweet leaf or sweet herb, is making inroads into the health food and natural foods markets."
- Keville, Kathi. "Exploring South America's Medicinal Plants". Vegetarian Times. April 1987. p. 47.
- Stanford, Duane D. (31 May 2007). "Coke and Cargill teaming on new drink sweetener". Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Archived from the original on 30 September 2007. Retrieved 31 May 2007.
- Etter, Lauren and McKay, Betsy (31 May 2007). "Coke, Cargill Aim For a Shake-Up In Sweeteners". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 1 June 2007.
- "Truvia ingredients". Retrieved 15 May 2008.
- "Stevia sweetener gets US FDA go-ahead". Decision News Media SAS. 18 December 2008. Retrieved 11 May 2009.
- "Coke to sell drinks with stevia; Pepsi holds off". The Seattle Times. Associated Press. 15 December 2008. Retrieved 16 December 2008.
- Geller, Martinne (26 June 2013). "Coke to sell 'natural' mid-calorie cola in Argentina". Reuters. Retrieved 27 June 2013.
- "FDA Approves 2 New Sweeteners". The New York Times. Associated Press. 17 December 2008. Retrieved 11 May 2009.
- "Rebiana today". Cargill. Retrieved 2008-12-22.
- "New scientific studies establish the safety of Rebiana, a sweetener from the stevia plant". FlexNews. 2008-05-15. Retrieved 2008-12-22.
- Growing Stevia, Retrieved 7 November 2013
- Koyama, E., et al. "In vitro metabolism of the glycosidic sweeteners, stevia mixture and enzymatically modified stevia in human intestinal microflora." Food and Chemical Toxicology 41.3 (2003) 359–374.
- Chatsudthipong, V.; Muanprasat, C. (January 2009). "Stevioside and related compounds: therapeutic benefits beyond sweetness". Pharmacol Ther 121 (1): 41–54. doi:10.1016/j.pharmthera.2008.09.007. PMID 19000919.
- Shankar, P.; Ahuja, S.; Sriram, K. (2013). "Non-nutritive sweeteners: Review and update". Nutrition 29 (11–12): 1293. doi:10.1016/j.nut.2013.03.024. PMID 23845273.
- Goyal, S. K.; Samsher; Goyal, R. K. (February 2010). "Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) a bio-sweetener: a review". Int J Food Sci Nutr 61 (1): 1–10. doi:10.3109/09637480903193049. PMID 19961353.
- Kobylewski, Sarah; Eckhert, Curtis. "Toxicology of Rebaudioside A: A Review" (PDF). Retrieved 19 August 2015.
- Benford, D. J.; DiNovi, M.; Schlatter, J. (2006). "Safety Evaluation of Certain Food Additives: Steviol Glycosides" (PDF). WHO Food Additives Series (World Health Organization Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA)) 54: 140.
- Geuns JM (2003). "Stevioside". Phytochemistry 64 (5): 913–21. doi:10.1016/S0031-9422(03)00426-6. PMID 14561506.
- Brusick DJ (2008). "A critical review of the genetic toxicity of steviol and steviol glycosides". Food Chem Toxicol 46 (7): S83–S91. doi:10.1016/j.fct.2008.05.002. PMID 18556105.
- Ulbricht, C.; Isaac, R.; Milkin, T.; Poole, E. A.; Rusie, E. et al. (April 2010). "An evidence-based systematic review of stevia by the Natural Standard Research Collaboration". Cardiovasc Hematol Agents Med Chem 8 (2): 113–27. PMID 20370653.
- "Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on food additives, Sixty-ninth Meeting" (PDF). World Health Organization. 4 July 2008.
- "Stevia". Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Retrieved 19 August 2015.
- "Olam and Wilmar in 50:50 JV to Acquire 20% Stake in PureCircle, a Leading Producer of Natural High-Intensity Sweeteners for USD 106.2 Mln". flex-news-food.com. 1 July 2008. Retrieved 5 April 2012.
- "Stevia gets Australian approval for food and beverages". Foodnavigator.com. Retrieved 13 February 2013.
- Hawke, Jenny (February–March 2003). "The Bittersweet Story of the Stevia Herb". Nexus magazine (PDF) 10 (2).
- "Notice of Modification to the List of Permitted Sweeteners to Enable the Use of Steviol Glycosides as a Table-Top Sweetener and as a Sweetener in Certain Food Categories - Document Reference Number NOM/ADM-0002". Health Canada. 2012.
- "Commission Regulation (EU) No 1131/2011" (PDF). Official Journal of the European Union: 205. 11 November 2011. Retrieved 15 November 2011.
The CE regulation establishes steviol glycosides as food additive, and establishes maximum content levels in foodstuff and beverages.
- Halliday, Jess (8 September 2009). "France approves high Reb A stevia sweeteners". foodnavigator.com. Retrieved 23 January 2010.
- Halliday, Jess (15 September 2009). "France's first stevia products around the corner". foodanddrinkeurope.com. Retrieved 23 January 2010.
- "Cap 132U Schedule (Sweeteners in Food Regulations; Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance) |". legislation.gov.hk. 2011. Retrieved 22 June 2011.
- "Gazette of India" (PDF). www.fssai.gov.in. FSSAI. Retrieved 22 May 2015.
- Indonesia's Minister of Health (2012), Regulation of No. 033 on Food Additives
- "Stevia Sweeteners Now Approved in Israel". greenprophet.com. 2012. Retrieved 5 April 2012.
- "Norwegian Stevia fact sheet Norwegian Institute of Public Health". Fhi.no. 17 June 1999. doi:10.2903/j.efsa.2010.1537. Retrieved 13 February 2013.
- "Technical regulations for juice products from fruits and vegetables" (PDF). Russian Federation Federal Law. 27 October 2008. p. Table 5.
- "Sale of Food Act, Chapter 283, Section 56(1): Food Regulations" (PDF). Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore. 2005.
- Li, Simon (27 March 2002). Fact Sheet: Stevioside (PDF). Hong Kong Legislative Council Secretariat Research and Library Services Division.
- Curry,Leslie Lake. "Agency Response Letter GRAS Notice No. GRN 000287". Retrieved 28 August 2010.
- FDA GRAS notification database Stevia search in FDA GRAS Database Accessed 20 March 2014
- FDA Page updated 4 April 2012 Is Stevia an 'FDA approved' sweetener?
- Purkayastha, S. ""A Guide to Reb-A", Food Product Design". Retrieved 28 March 2009.
- "Celestial Seasonings: Who sent the trade complaint that started the raid?". – memorandum from the Department of Health & Human Services to its Denver office.
- "Artificial Sweetener Controversies From Saccharin to Sucralose". leda.law.harvard.edu. 20 December 2010. Retrieved 20 December 2010.
- Food and Drug Administration (1995, rev 1996, 2005). Import Alert #45-06: "Automatic Detention of Stevia Leaves, Extract of Stevia Leaves, and Food Containing Stevia"
- Kyl, John (R-Arizona) (1993). Letter to former FDA Commissioner David Aaron Kessler about the 1991 stevia import ban, quoted at stevia.net safety studies.
- McCaleb, Rob (1997). "Controversial Products in the Natural Foods Market". Herb Research Foundation. Retrieved 8 November 2006.
- European Commission Scientific Committee on Food (June 1999). Opinion on Stevioside as a Sweetener
- Newmarker, Chris (18 December 2008). "Federal regulators give OK for Cargill's Truvia sweetener". Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal. Retrieved 18 December 2008.
- "What refined Stevia preparations have been evaluated by FDA to be used as a sweetener?". fda.gov. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved 22 March 2014.
- "Is Stevia an 'FDA approved' sweetener?".