Move over, artificial sweeteners—you’re history! In the months and years ahead, we’ll be seeing the purified stevia compound rebaudioside A as a low-calorie herbal sweetener in conventional mass-market foods, probably beginning with soft drinks.
On December 17, 2008, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made a landmark announcement in the form of two “Agency Response Letters”—one addressed to Cargill, Inc., the other to Whole Earth Sweetener Company LLC. Last May, both companies submitted findings to the FDA, basically saying they had independently convened expert panels and concluded that a purified compound from stevia known as rebaudioside A (responsible for the herb’s super-sweetness) was safe in food. In its “Letters,” the FDA said, “the agency has no questions at this time regarding [the company’s] conclusion that rebaudioside A” is safe. In FDA-speak, no questions means “approved.”
Previously, the FDA had banned all use of stevia as a sweetener, while industry groups, such as the American Herbal Products Association, had unsuccessfully petitioned the FDA to allow it.
If you’re confused because just last week you bought a stevia product at your local health-food store, take a closer look at the package. That product was not a stevia sweetener, but a stevia dietary supplement, which the FDA had not restricted. Does this mean that all forms of stevia—extract, dried herb and tea—now can be called sweeteners? For the answer, you’ll probably need to hire a good lawyer who specializes in food and drug law. The only thing certain is stevia’s flavor: no matter how you regulate or label it, stevia’s sweet, sweet flavor is unmistakable.
To read the FDA Agency Response Letters regarding stevia, search “stevia” at www.fda.gov.