A lot of questions came in again last week on sweeteners! This week, I wanted to focus on two of the stevia (rebiana) sweeteners that are now available on the market. And just a reminder that even though we call these sweeteners “stevia,” they’re really not quite the same as the stevia (perhaps purchased in a health-food store) that some of you have mentioned using. Only the stevia extract rebiana has been given the green light for use as a general purpose sweetener by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Truvia is made by Cargill, an international company that produces and markets food, agricultural, financial, and industrial products. In addition to Truvia, Cargill makes animal feed, ingredients for skin care products and medicines, and salt (Diamond Crystal brand).
Truvia contains a purified extract of stevia called rebaudioside A, or rebiana. Rebiana comes from the stevia leaf. To extract rebiana, stevia leaves are harvested, dried, and steeped in water (Cargill likens this process to tea leaf processing). They point out that no chemicals are used in the extraction process.
This sweetener contains another ingredient: erythritol. Cargill markets an erythritol sweetener called Zerose, by the way. Erythritol is a sugar alcohol, or polyol, that is used in Japan to sweeten candy, chocolate, and beverages, and as a tabletop sweetener. (Other sugar alcohols include sorbitol, mannitol, and xylitol.) Erythritol is found naturally in grapes, melons, pears, mushrooms, and some fermented foods, including wine, beer, and soy sauce.
This sweetener is a white, crystalline powder with a taste similar to regular sugar. It’s about 70% as sweet as sugar and has similar properties (for example, it flows like sugar). Unlike other sugar alcohols, though, erythritol doesn’t have quite the same laxative effects because it’s rapidly absorbed in the small intestine. Erythritol has zero calories (well, actually 0.2 calories per gram) and has a zero glycemic index, meaning that it has practically no effect on blood glucose. It’s also been on the FDA’s GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) list since 1997. The only possible downside of erythritol is that ingesting more than 80 grams per day could lead to bloating, gas, and diarrhea.
Why does Truvia contain erythritol, then? Some sweetener companies add this sugar alcohol to their nonnutritive sweeteners because it lends more of a “real sugar” flavor to the product and can prevent or tone down any aftertaste. One packet of Truvia contains 0 calories and 3 grams of carbohydrate (from erythritol).
Truvia is considered to be safe for use by adults, pregnant and nursing women, and children. The Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) is set at roughly 12 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day, which translates (for adults) into 29 packets of Truvia per day or eight 8-ounce rebiana-sweetened beverages per day. It’s also kosher and gluten free. You can cook and bake with Truvia, although some adjustments in temperature and cooking time are needed (check the Truvia Web site for cooking tips).
Truvia’s counterpart, PureVia, is made by Whole Earth Sweetener Company, a company based in Chicago that makes all-natural sweeteners, foods, and beverages. Whole Earth Company is similar to Cargill in terms of how they manufacture PureVia. They’ve teamed up with PureCircle, a company that develops extraction methods from plants, to extract stevia from the leaves using ethanol.
PureVia contains erythritol (like Truvia), and has no calories and 2 grams of carbohydrate (mostly from erythritol). It’s gluten free and kosher, as well. You can cook and bake with PureVia, too.
There are other rebiana sweeteners available now, as well, including SweetLeaf and Sun Crystals, a blend of stevia and sugar cane.
Are these new stevia-based sweeteners safe? A Brazilian study published in 2007 showed that stevia extract added to the water of rats caused DNA breakage in the rat’s blood, liver, spleen, and brain cells. There are few human studies with rebiana, but the ones that are out there show no adverse effects of rebiana on blood pressure or glucose, so that’s the good news. The problem is that the studies were short term, and no studies have been done yet with either Truvia or PureVia, so perhaps time will tell with these sweeteners. In the meantime, for those of you who have tried these new rebiana sweeteners, what do you think? How do they taste? Have you used them in cooking or baking? Please share!