A Summertime Favorite: Sweeten Drinks With Stevia

| 8/4/2010 4:44:50 PM

K.WalkerKate Walker is a retired educator who enjoys cooking, quilting, reading, writing and travel! She believes that there is always "thyme" to cook and to sit down as a family for the evening meal. Cooking together is a wonderful way to bring family and friends together to enjoy food and each other. With a good recipe and a spoonful of thyme wonderful things can happen! Visit Kate at her blog A Spoonful of Thyme at www.aspoonfulofthyme.blogspot.com. 

I am fortunate to live in the world's largest garden: California's Central Valley! This valley actually provides one quarter of America's food.  Living here makes it easy to find an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables. With the variety of fruits and vegetables available, it also means that there is no excuse for not eating healthy. 

Last year I learned about a small group of Central Valley farmers who had formed an alliance with the goal of providing affordable, chemically unaltered food and delivering it to consumers within hours of harvest! Each week, the alliance, Abundant Harvest Organics, provides an unlimited variety of organically grown seasonal fruits and vegetables in a "veggie box". I learned about foods that I had never eaten and that were not familiar to me. This week when I was reviewing the list of items we were to receive, I noticed something called stevia was in the box. 

Stevia is a natural sweetener that is also calorie-free.
Photo by 
Kate Walker 

Since I had never heard of stevia I decided that some research was in order. I learned that stevia is a non-caloric herb that is extremely sweet. It can be over a hundred times sweeter than sugar. It was an important crop in England during World War II when sugar was being rationed, and has been used in Japan for many years as a sweetener. In the United States, stevia has only recenlty been approved as a sweetener. Before it was approved by the FDA in 2008, it was strictly sold as a dietary supplement. (Learn more about this landmark announcement.) 

Stevia leaves yield sweetness, which can vary depending on its soil conditions, climate and time of harvest. And the best thing about stevia? No calories! One leaf will sweeten a glass of iced tea, lemonade or coffee. To enhance a fruit salad or salad dressing, add some fresh leaves that have been chopped.