leaf-74187_1920There is a debate running about sugar and alternative sweeteners. The general agreement is that refined white sugar is unhealthy for our bodies. It contains empty calories and active agents that rot our teeth and help increase the rate of diabetes in our population. Yet we continue to purchase and consume sugar in mass quantities. The artificial sweeteners aren’t healthy for you either, causing side effects like cancer.

Along comes stevia, a plant from South America that took thirty some odd years to appear in American grocery stores. So what is the big buzz about stevia? It is a plant. You can use it much like curry leaves, right from the plant itself. It takes less amount of stevia than regular sugar to sweeten products. You can purchase stevia from your local market, it comes in the form of white powder, packaged in a box.

Like most “natural” products, stevia is subjected to a refining process. Unfortunately, I could not find out exactly how stevia is processed. Unlike sugar, where I found a chart that shows you the refining process of cane or beet sugar, no where could I find the exact process that this plant is subjected to in order to make the fine white powder (unusual in this information age). When I do I’ll make sure I share on this blog. Hopefully it does not involve the same kind of process beet and cane sugar go through.

As a vegan-minded chef, it took me some time to understand why refined sugar is on the list of animal by-products. It comes from a plant, beet or cane. It is natural. Why would it be listed? Then I did some research, and found out that sugar is subjected to an intense refining process. Once sugar is extracted from the plant, then the dried crystals are bleached through cow bones. This is a process that has been going on for a couple thousand years, and the reason vegans do not consume commercial sugar.

I do recommend trying this relative new-comer to the sweetener shelf, and see how you like it. I found some recipes for you to try. It does take smaller amount of stevia to sweeten other food.  And so far has proven to have zero side affects on the human body. As always, experiment, and find out what works for you. Let us know how you feel about stevia by using the comment form below.