The Evolving Natural Sweetener

By: Shivangi Kelkar

Stevia, a natural and low-calorie sweetener, is leading the pack of natural sweeteners available in the food industry today according to an article I read recently. Stevia belongs to the group of 240 species of herbs and shrubs in the sunflower family, native to subtropical and tropical regions from western North to South America. Stevia is attractive to people as it has up to 300 times the sweetness of sugar and negligible effects on blood glucose. Thus, it offers a great alternative to people looking for low-sugar options in their diet.

Data has shown that about 38.5% of snack products containing stevia have emerged in the US market in the last few years. However, stevia has been known to give a bitter aftertaste in some applications. Also, it has shown a tendency to gel at high temperatures. In turn, bulking agents, such as erythritol, are required in most formulations, which contribute to added calories. Additionally, stevia lacks the attributes of sugar, such as caramelizing and browning properties, and hence it is difficult at times to determine when a final product containing stevia is done cooking/baking. Products such as breads, baked snacks, or breakfast cereals tend to be more promising over cookies and cakes.

Worldwide, 50% of new products in the past year that incorporated stevia fell within the bakery and snack segment. Evaluation of stevia trends showed its maximum usage in potato chips, tortilla chips, cheese puffs, breads, and rolls. An innovation insights director predicts that stevia will continue to be used “stealthily”!

There is quite a bit of competition in the natural sweetener category with other varieties, such as coconut palm sugar and monk fruit sweetener, emerging that might be potentially more appealing to bakery and snack reformulations.  A consultant rightly states, “There is an art involved in creating products with stevia!”

Have you tried any stevia-containing products? Did you notice any difference? Or perhaps you have prepared products with stevia? Did you encounter any challenges?


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