Stevia-a magical sweetener plant

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Stevia is a plant that is native to South America. It is most likely to be the best source of natural sweeteners. Stevia rebaudiana L. is shrub like perennial plant that grows up to 1 m tall and leaves length varies from 2-3 cm which is used as sweetener. It belongs to a family which is indigenous to the northern regions of South America named “Asteraceae”. Wild growing form of stevia is still found in the uplands of Amambay and Lguacu districts (Brazil and Paraguay Border Area). Stevia is a genus of about 240 species, out of these 200 species are native to South Africa. However, Stevia rebaudiana L. has more sweetness intensity than all others plants of the genus stevia. The species Stevia rebaudiana L. commonly known as sweetleaf, sweet leaf, sugarleaf, or simply stevia, is widely grown for its sweet leaves. In Pakistan it is also known as “Meethi Patti”. It contains Steviol glycosides, which is responsible of sweetness of plant leaves. Its sweetness is 200-300 times of that of cane sugar but its calorie is only 1/300 of that of cane sugar. It is grown commercially in many parts of the China, Thailand, Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil, Central America and Israel. In fact, stevia is in use among the native people of South America as a sweetener for hundreds of years.

Seeds of Stevia rebaudiana L. were introduced by the scientists of National Agriculture Research Center (NARC), Islamabad in Pakistan. It was sown at different climatic areas (including shade, semi-shade and full sunlight) of Pakistan to check its viability, in 2003. Stevia has got attention with rise in demand for low-carbohydrate, low-sugar sweeteners. It has negligible effect on blood glucose thats why it has got attention by people who are suffered with diabetes.

The people in Brazil and Paraguay have used the leaves of stevia as a sweetener for hundreds of years. The Guarani Indians of Paraguay have used it to sweeten their yerba mate tea for centuries and they call it “kaajhee”. They have also used stevia to sweeten other teas and foods and have used it medicinally as a cardiotonic, to control the problems of obesity, hypertension and heartburn, and to help lower uric acid levels.

Besides sweetener agent, stevia is used as a hypoglycemic, hypotensive, diuretic, cardiotonic and tonic. The leaves of stevia play an important role for controlling diabetes, obesity, cavities, hypertension, fatigue, depression, sweet cravings, and infections. In traditional medical systems of Paraguay and Brazil, the leaves are used and have important role.

In United States, many herbalists also recommend the use of stevia leaves to those who are suffering from diabetes, high blood pressure, infections, and as a sweetening agent. In Japan and Brazil Stevia plant has got much popularity and now it is approved as a food additive and sugar substitute there. Since 16th century, stevia has been used widely throughout Europe and Asia.

In the United States it is also used as a sugar substitute due to its health benefits. After research it has been revealed that about one-fourth teaspoon of the natural sweetener leaves or one whole leaf is equal to about one teaspoon of the sugar. In South America it is used as a natural aid for diabetes and hypertension; one cup is taken 2-3 times daily.

By the 19th century, western people started its use. It was first studied by Paraguayan botanist named Moises S. Bertoni in 1899. He wrote some of the primary articles on stevia in 1900.

Stevia is considered to be helpful in weight loss because of its very low level of calories and its sweetness is so concentrated. If we chew few leaves of stevia they will satisfy our sweet tooth, and the torn leaves are an excellent substitute for sugar in cooking. Stevia will be the sweetener of the future, said by different researchers and scientists.

Japanese are using stevia as a sweetener in everything from soy sauce to soft drinks, pickle and confectionery. Even multinational companies like Coca-Cola and Beatrice Foods use the extracts of stevia plant leaves to sweeten the products for sale in Japan, Brazil and other countries where it is approved as a food additive. It is especially for sugar patients because it has zero calories.

Stevia has magical characteristics, lot of medical uses and the most important is that it can be used as a substitute of sugar as its leaves are 300 times more sweetener than sugar of can. It is becoming much popular in present generation due to its medical benefits.

It can be used as weight loss aid, treating diabetes, high blood pressure controller; for heartburn, for lowering uric acid levels; for preventing pregnancy and for increasing the strength of the muscle contractions that pump blood from the heart. So, by keeping in view all the points discussed above, benefits and uses, it is hoped that stevia will be the better choice for next generation as a sweetener and for medicinal purposes.

Stevia is also available as a sweetener in South Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan, Russia, Israel, Mexico, Paraguay, Uruguay, Venezuela, Columbia, Brazil, and Argentina.

Now it is necessary for us that we create awareness among the people as well as in farmers to cultivate this magical plant.

The writer is associated with the Plant Genomics Resource Laboratory 5, Centre of Agricultural Biochemistry and Biotechnology University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, Pakistan.

He can reached at <>


Published in: Volume 05 Issue 06

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