Stevia sweetener is an all-natural sweetener used as a replacement for sugar or artificial sweeteners. This food additive is said to be much healthier than other sweeteners, like aspartame or high fructose corn syrup. Although Stevia is available in health food stores, you can even make your own Stevia sweetener from the Stevia plant. Here's how to make liquid Stevia sweetener.
- Plant the Stevia. Stevia is an herb related to the Chrysanthemum. Its full name is Stevia Rebaudiana, and it grows wild in Paraguay and Brazil. It is easiest to start with transplants from a nursery, because Stevia can be difficult to grow from seeds. Today, most garden centers or nurseries will carry it; be sure to specifically ask for Stevia Rebaudiana, as there are other kinds of Stevia. It should be potted in rich soil that is exposed to full sun. The soil should be moist but offer good drainage; your Stevia plants should be lightly watered very frequently. Do not allow the roots to sit in water for long periods of time. Stevia can be grown outdoors or in containers both indoors or outside.
- Wait to harvest the leaves. Pinch off blooms to encourage more leaves to grow. Stevia plants usually grow to around 30 inches tall and 18 to 24 inches wide. Usually, the Stevia plants are not harvested until the second year, although if you are growing it outdoors in a climate where it will not survive over the winter, you'll need to harvest it the first year.
- Harvest the Stevia. Pick the leaves off your Stevia plant, just like you were harvesting any other herb. This is best done in the fall, after the growing season is over. Lay the leaves out to dry in a sunny spot with good ventilation before making liquid Stevia sweetener.
- Make liquid Stevia sweetener. Once the leaves are completely dry, crumble the leaves into a powder. Then pour 4 cups of boiling water over 1 tablespoon of dried leaves, and leave it to steep. Once the water has cooled, strain the mixture. Refrigerate the liquid Stevia sweetener for up to 3 days, or freeze it for later use.
- Use the liquid Stevia sweetener. One tablespoon of this liquid Stevia sweetener is about as sweet as a cup of sugar. It will take just a few drops to sweeten your tea or coffee. Do not use too much in your food, because it can cause a bitter taste. If you're using the Stevia when baking, add 1/3 cup liquid (yogurt, applesauce, fruit juice, or egg whites work well) for every cup of sugar that has been replaced by the Stevia.
All sweeteners except natural sugar and Stevia were developed in a lab and are made with chemicals. In contrast, Stevia is a naturally sweet herb. It has even been recommended for diabetics who cannot use other forms of sweeteners for health reasons, because it does not raise blood sugar levels.