How 'Natural' Is Stevia?

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It may be sweet and calorie-free, but extracting that flavor from a plant requires serious chemical interventions. 

Food Politics
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FoodNavigator-USA.com did a special edition "Where next for natural sweeteners?" Special editions are collections of previously published articles on topics of interest to this newsletter's food industry readers.

Why do this? The holy grail of food technology is to find a no-calorie sweetener that tastes as good as sugar, has no bitter aftertaste, and can be marketed as "natural" because it's extracted from plants. Examples: Stevia extracted from leaves, Monk fruit sweetener.

As with high fructose corn syrup, not everyone considers these sweeteners to be natural since they have to go through chemical processing steps.

Stevia is extracted from leaves with ethanol. Whether this process can be considered natural is currently under debate in Europe. Some European regulators prefer "extracted from a plant source."

Here are some of the articles. For the complete collection, click here.

Monk fruit sweetener firm: 'We hear daily that people are looking for alternatives to stevia'

It might not have garnered as much publicity as stevia, but monk fruit (luo han guo) "has found a niche within the all-natural market but will hit mass market sooner than stevia in this space", according to one leading supplier... Read

Tate & Lyle: Monk fruit sweetener attracting most interest in dairy and beverages

Dairy and beverages are proving the most popular application areas for monk fruit sweetener Purefruit, says Tate & Lyle... Read

Different processes, lower cost, better taste: Is stevia still on track for mainstream success? Taste issues and high cost repeatedly have been raised as possible obstacles to widespread acceptance of stevia-derived sweeteners, but one of the many new suppliers entering the market claims that these are no longer the hurdles they once were... Read

Steviol glycosides are not 'all-natural', says new class action lawsuitA class action lawsuit filed in California this week argues that steviol glycosides should not be considered natural, owing to the "chemical processing" sometimes used to extract them from the stevia leaf... Read

Stevia buyers beware: There are some 'awful' extracts out there...

While traders "jumping in and out of the stevia marketplace" are disrupting prices and standards by peddling some "awful" extracts, high-quality stevia suppliers in it for the long-haul will ultimately prosper, according to one leading player... Read

Stevia in snacks and baked goods - stealth, competition, and potential

While stevia is beginning to take off in a number of baked goods and snack categories in the US, Asian and South American markets, some other emerging 'natural' sweeteners look ready to take it on in the segment, claims Datamonitor... Read

Naturally-positioned sweeteners to lead market growth: Report

The US alternative sweeteners market will grow by 3.3% a year to reach about $1.4bn in 2015 - and naturally positioned sweeteners like stevia and agave nectar will lead the way, claims a new report from market research organization Freedonia... Read

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This post originally appeared on Food Politics, an Atlantic partner site.



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Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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