One of the biggest drawbacks of any sugar-based sweetener — no matter how raw or organic it might be — is that it packs just as many, if not more, calories than plain-old table sugar. Stevia extract, which is derived from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant native to Central and South America, solves that problem: it’s both all-natural and calorie-free. “Stevia is not sugar,” notes New York University nutritional scientist Marion Nestle.
Long popular in Paraguay, Brazil, China and Japan, stevia became widely available in the U.S. in the last few years, after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allowed its use as a food additive in December 2008. In its raw form, Stevia extract is about 40 times sweeter than sucrose. That’s why it is mixed with other ingredients when sold as a powder under the brand names Truvia, Pure Via and Stevia in the Raw.
The main ingredient in Truvia is a sugar alcohol called erythritol (86% of Truvia by weight), which is a carbohydrate, but has essentially no calories because our bodies don’t have the enzymes to metabolize it. Stevia in the Raw and Pure Via both also contain the sugar dextrose, a.k.a. glucose, but there is so little per serving that the calories are negligible.
(MORE: 5 Healthier Alternatives to the Potato Chip)
While neither Truvia, Stevia in the Raw nor Pure Via tasted at all like sugar to me, I liked the bright flavor of Truvia the best on its own. When I substituted Truvia for my usual Sugar in the Raw in my morning coffee (mixed with milk), I couldn’t even tell the difference.
Baking with stevia-based sweeteners is tricky for a couple reasons, the main one being volume. A single packet of Sugar in the Raw or Pure Via substitutes for two teaspoons of table sugar in terms of sweetness, but is just a quarter of a teaspoon in volume. A packet of Truvia, on the other hand, is about one teaspoon in volume (and also substitutes for two teaspoons of table sugar). And because none taste just like sugar, you might not be thrilled with the flavor either. But for a zero-calorie sweetener in coffee or tea, these all-natural sugar substitutes are definitely worth trying.