Stevia, an herb that is native to Paraguay, is non-caloric and extremely sweet. The product, available in most health food stores, is legal for use in the US only as a dietary supplement. Many holistic physicians are now touting the benefits of using stevia instead of artificial sugar substitutes which many doctors believe create a myriad of health problems.
This article gives some guidelines on how to use stevia effectively in cooking and baking and can be helpful for diabetics, as well as those who are looking to reduce the intake of refined sugar without resorting to sugar substitutes. The sweetness of stevia is not affected by high temperatures, thus it is an excellent tool for cooking and baking.
Stevia is available in liquid or powder forms. 1 cup of sugar is the same as 1 tsp liquid stevia or 1/3 to 1/2 tsp. stevia extract powder. However, since stevia lacks the same properties as granulated sugar, some bulk must be added stevia to serve the same function as sugar. For example, stevia alone cannot soften cake batter, caramelize, enhance browning, or facilitate the fermentation of yeast.
To bulk up the stevia, you will need to replace 1 cup of sugar with 1/3 cup of bulk. Bulk can be yogurt, apple sauce, fruit juice, fruit puree, egg whites, or water. Let's say you plan to use apple sauce as your bulking agent. In this instance, you would use 1 tsp. liquid stevia plus 1/3 cup apple sauce to equal 1 cup of sugar. Or if you're already making something that contains a bulking agent, for instance banana bread, you would use 1 tsp. liquid stevia plus an extra 1/3 cup banana puree to account for a cup of sugar in the recipe.
If you are cooking something that is already sweet, the guidelines in step 2 will work just fine. However, if your recipe contains sour ingredients, such as lemons or tart cranberries, you may need to add a bit more stevia. Just be cautious in adding more stevia by starting with ½ tsp. of the liquid and add gradually to suit your taste.
If you plan to use stevia by the teaspoon, you can, of course, use the liquid stevia concentrate, but bear in mind that it is very sweet. You may want to start by putting a bit on the end of your finger and tasting the sweetness to gauge how much to use. Another way to use stevia for your beverages by the cup is by using a solution made by dissolving 1 tsp of powdered stevia in 3 tbs of filtered water in a dropper style bottle.
If you're really into cutting the calories, here are some other helpful substitutes for baking:
Chocolate Use 3 Tbs. unsweetened cocoa powder + 12 drops liquid stevia to equal 1 oz. Chocolate
Semi-Sweet Chocolate 1 oz. unsweetened chocolate + 12 drops Stevia = 1 and 2/3 oz. Semi-sweet Chocolate
Pre-Made Applesauce 3 finely chopped apples; 2 finely chopped pears; 2 - 3 drops liquid stevia. In a blender, puree all ingredients.
A helpful conversion chart is available at www.stevia.net/conversion.html