Natural Sweetener Stevia Big Crop for Mexico
Tara A. Spears
After eating and drinking our way through the holiday season, many people promise themselves to start the new year by going on diet or at least reduce their calorie intake. The natural sweetener has caught the attention of both doctors and dieters is Stevia, a plant that is sweeter than sugar with zero calories and no harmful effects. The astute Mexican farmers jumped on the cultivation as a replacement for sugar cane production. As early as 2009 Mexico approved using Stevia in food processing.
The origin of Stevia Rebaudiana is in central Paraguay where it grows near the ponds and streams in wild conditions. Native Paraguayans have been consuming this herb in large quantities for many centuries. It was only during the early fifties that the Japanese stumbled upon this unique herb and took it to Japan where they have developed many varieties of this wonderful herb for large scale cultivation The leaves of this plant are 30 times sweeter than sugar! Pure extract of Stevia is 300 times sweeter than sugar so much less product is needed in baking, which caught the attention of the food industry as a cost saving method.
Stevia Rebaudiana is a small perennial growing up to 65-80 cm tall, oppositely arranged leaves. Different species of Stevia contain several potential sweetening compounds, with Stevia Rebaudiana being the sweetest of all. Stevia is a semi-humid subtropical plant that can be grown easily like any other vegetable crop even in the kitchen garden. The soil should be in the pH range of 6.5- 7.5; well-drained red soil and sandy loam soil. Saline soils should be avoided to cultivate this plant. Harvesting of Stevia should be done as late as possible, since cool autumn temperatures and shorter days tend to intensify the sweetness of the plants as they evolve into a reproductive state.
America, it appears to be confined to high altitude habitats within this range; habitats that experience cooler, subtropical and temperate climates, rather than hot tropical climates.
Andrew Weil, M.D., the leading exponent of the integrative medicine, prefers stevia to any of the artificial sweeteners. “The only non-caloric sweetener I recommend is stevia, an herb in the chrysanthemum family native to Paraguay,” he writes. “Stevia is safe for diabetics and is widely used as a sweetener around the world, especially in Japan and Brazil.”
Stevia hasn’t gone through the United States Food and Drug Administration’s testing procedure yet. But ever since 1994 stevia has been available as “a dietary supplement.” You can get stevia in three forms: granulated extract in liquid form, or capsule. The most natural form is the powdered green leaf but it has a bitter after-taste. The commercial granulated form works great in drinks and cooking.
According to the Mexican ‘Stevia First SF Corp,” buyers of the Stevia sweetener have a far different perspective than in US or Canada. Mexican mainstream consumers are less interested in the slightly different taste, nostalgia, and fun, and far more interested in convenience and safe hydration. Mexico has made great strides in infrastructure development, but certain communities still have water quality issues, leaving Coca-Cola as one of the safest drink options. Countries like India, and many others across South Asia and Africa of course have far greater developmental challenges than Mexico.
People in under developed parts of these emerging countries may worry less about childhood obesity than childhood diarrhea which is linked to poor water quality. This illness kills an estimated 2,000 children under the age of five each day. Economic development is supposed to be the key to solving these challenges, but in Mexico’s case, it was a double-edged sword, as NAFTA and free trade also brought the processed food industry which has had devastating consequences on Mexican public health.
Robert Brook writes: “What Mexican Coke demonstrates is that all roads lead to sugar reduction. It’s an inevitable trend and not just an opportunity in the U.S., but a clear one internationally as well.
Time is of the essence. Morgan Stanley just released a 70-page report on the high economic toll of sugar, warning that it may sharply curtail economic growth. Yes, that’s correct, the magnitude of this issue is so great that overconsumption of a common food and beverage ingredient is projected to curtail the economic growth of entire nations. This is already the case in the U.S. and Mexico, and soon will be in China and India too, because that’s where 40% of the world’s diabetics now live. In the Morgan Stanley report, stevia was identified as has having enjoyed exponential growth in recent years as a result of these trends.
The genius of stevia is that you can get the much needed hydration and also the sweetness with a plant-based sweetener that everyone loves. Everyone can avoid the harmful spikes in glucose and insulin levels that lead to chronic metabolic disease. A country can lead the world in sweetened beverage consumption without also leading it in Type 2 diabetes. You can have your cake and eat it, too.
Using stevia everybody wins: consumers, food and beverage makers, farmers, and the planet.