This is my friend Steve.
I named him Steve, because he is a Stevia plant. Joy from Pinkoddy has a Stevia plant too. She named hers Evia. Steve is my friend because he is the first plant I have managed to keep alive for more than a month (he’s even doubled in size since I’ve had him)! He is also a reminder of all that I learnt about Stevia, on a day at the PureCircle offices in Wokingham recently with Coca Cola and the Global Stevia Institute.
Stevia is a plant which originated in South America, but is now grown all over the world (including my Steve who grows in my Kitchen). Each Stevia leaf contains many many Steviol Glycosides, which are extracted to make Stevia Leaf Extracts. These extracts are then used in foods and beverages all over the world. One such example is Coca Cola Life. Stevia leaf extract can be up to 300 times sweeter than sugar, so very little of it is needed to sweeten foods or beverages. Stevia contains ZERO CALORIES and is certified by all major global regulatory bodies as 100% safe for consumption.
So basically, Coca Cola have made Coca Cola life by removing 30% of the sugar and replacing it with Stevia Leaf Extract, in order to reduce the sugar content and calorie content of the drink. Coca Cola have made commitments to reducing the sugar content of their drinks and providing healthier options.
I personally, have been a convert to Coca Cola Life since it was launched, despite thinking I’d always be a red can kind of girl (I wrote about Coca Cola Life before) as I love the taste. I like to avoid artificial sweeteners, so I don’t tend to drink Diet Coke or Coke Zero, which are the zero calorie alternatives to the original Coca Cola. I love that Coca Cola Life is better for you and uses only natural sweeteners (sugar and stevia).
In addition to being a natural zero calorie sweetener, Stevia is also sustainable. Stevia farming requires very little water, land and energy, in comparison to other naturally sourced sweet ingredients and it is providing additional income to farmers around the globe who are now growing it. It is cultivated in Paraguay, Kenya, China, US, Argentina, Brazil, Columbia, India and Vietnam. The job opportunities presented through the growth of Stevia has been life changing for some of the farmers who were previously living in poverty.
Whilst Stevia extract was newly approved in Europe in 2011, it has been used in Japan for over 40 years and in South America for around 200 years. Stevia is safe, natural, sustainable, zero calorie, has no glycaemic index, no carbohydrates, is fully traceable to it’s original source and has great taste benefits too. The use of Stevia in products will contribute to healthier dietary choices through reduced sugar and in the cases of products where Stevia replace sugar completely, is suitable for diabetics. One example of this is in Glaceau Vitamin Water Multi-V Zero lemon drink uses Stevia INSTEAD of sugar or artificial sweetener and so is completely safe for diabetics.
Stevia extract is used in many products, not just soft drinks, but also in yoghurts, granola, snack bars, cereal, jam, canned fruit, chewing gum, baked goods, ice cream and even some brands of tomato ketchup.
The Global Stevia Institute is funded by PureCircle and whilst we were at their offices, we visited their testing lab upstairs for some experiments. We tasted different extracts from the Stevia leaf and learnt about how there are hundreds of different ones and they all taste slightly different. A vast amount of expertise goes into extracting Stevia and it’s a fascinating plant. We also did a blind taste test, to see if we could tell the difference between each of the different varieties of Coca Cola. I managed to pick Coca Cola Life out of the four, because it’s the one that I like the taste of the most. I also got Coca Cola correct, but I could not tell the difference between Coke Zero and Diet Coke.
I found it fascinating learning all about Stevia, particularly all the details on sustainable farming and the global impact of Stevia. Watch these two videos… the first is a farmer, talking about how growing Stevia has changed his life. It’s heartwarming. The second video gives more facts about Stevia, what it’s used for and it’s impact on the World.
I would like to thank Pure Circle, The Global Stevia Institute and Coca Cola for such a fascinating day learning about Stevia and I can’t wait to see how many brands convert to using Stevia in their products instead of sugar or artificial sweeteners over the next few years.