stevia rebaudiana healthy herb on teaspoon

What is Stevia and Where Does It Come From?

Stevia is a plant of the Asteraceae (sunflower) family. The leaves have been used as a sweetener in South America for hundreds of years. Extracts from the stevia leaf have been available as food additives (sweeteners) and/or dietary supplements in many countries around the world. 

How are Stevia Extracts Made? 

Stevia extracts were originally made by water extraction and further refining of the sweet components of the stevia leaf. However, today there are several methods for producing stevia ingredients. Please visit our How Stevia is Made section for more information.

Are Stevia Extracts Natural? 

Yes, stevia extracts (the short name for steviol glycosides) are the sweet compounds found in the leaves of the stevia plant, which is a small herb native to South America. 

How are Stevia Extracts Removed from the Stevia Leaf? 

Stevia extracts are removed from the leaves of the stevia plant by traditional extraction methods which do not alter the composition of the plant’s sweet compounds. The extraction process involves steeping the dried leaves of the stevia plant in water, filtering and separating the liquid from the leaves and stems, and further purifying the remaining plant extract with either water or food grade alcohol. Stevia extracts are exactly the same compound outside the leaf as they are found in the leaf.  Please visit our How Stevia is Made section for more information on all stevia production technologies.

How Can Stevia Extracts be Natural if an Extraction Process is Required? 

The definition and labeling requirements for natural vary country by country. In some markets, there are very precise and qualified requirements around the term natural. For instance, in the European Union, even products such as milk are not allowed to carry a natural claim.

Regardless of the ability to use the term “natural” for labeling or marketing purposes, research conducted by members of the International Stevia Council clearly demonstrate both a global demand for calorie-free sweetness from a plant source as well as a full understanding that an extraction process is necessary to take place in order to release the sweetness of the stevia plant.

The involvement of an extraction process does not impact consumer perception or acceptance of stevia extracts as natural nor do limitations on the term affect successful commercial product launches with stevia sweeteners. 

Are Stevia Extracts Safe, Are there Any Side Effects, or do They Cause Any Allergies? 

The safety of stevia extracts has been extensively reviewed and scientifically proven by numerous international organizations, such as the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Studies of stevia extracts clearly support the safety of these ingredients.

Further, clinical studies show that stevia extracts meeting purity criteria established by JECFA have no effect on either blood pressure or blood glucose response, indicating that stevia extracts are safe for use by persons with diabetes. 

Over the last 13 years, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stated it has no questions regarding the conclusion of expert panels that Rebaudioside A is Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) for use as a general purpose sweetener. To date, the FDA has stated that it has no questions in response to a number of separate stevia extract GRAS notifications. 

There are no known side effects or allergies from the use of stevia extracts in foods and beverages. 

Are Stevia Extracts Soluble? 

Stevia extracts have excellent solubility in a wide range of applications. 

Are Stevia Extracts Heat Stable, Photo Stable and Stable Under All pH Conditions? 

Stevia extracts are extremely heat, photo and pH stable under a wide range of processing conditions and have exhibited excellent shelf stability. 

Are Stevia Extracts Safe for Consumption by Diabetics? Do they Affect Blood Sugar Levels? What is Their Glycemic Index (GI)? 

Research has shown that stevia extracts do not affect blood glucose levels or interfere with insulin. With effectively zero calories, stevia extracts offer people with diabetes greater variety and flexibility in budgeting total calorie intake and assisting with weight management. Stevia extracts do not have an effect on GI, at the levels of use. 

Can Stevia Extracts be Used in Any Kind of Food and Beverage? Are there Restrictions in Usage? How Do They Interact with Other Sweeteners? 

Stevia extracts can be used in a wide variety of food and beverage applications. Individual usages and use levels may vary depending on the country. They act synergistically when used in combination with other sweeteners. 

How Sweet are Stevia Extracts vs. Sugar and Other Intense Sweeteners? Is there a Simple Way to Measure the Sweetness of Stevia Extracts? 

Stevia extracts can be from 50 – 450 times sweeter than sugar, depending on the application and amount and/or extract used. A simple way to measure the sweetness would be a sensory comparison with the sweetness of sugar in a water solution. 

Where Can I Find Products Made with Stevia Extracts? 

Each year, there are thousands of new product launches with stevia ingredients globally across a wide array of food and beverage categories. 

How Many Calories do Stevia Extracts Contribute? 

Stevia extracts contribute effectively zero calories. 

Are Stevia Plants Genetically Modified? 

Stevia plants are not genetically modified. Development of new plant varieties takes place by selective breeding and not genetic modification. 

What is the Relationship Between Stevia, Stevia Extracts, Steviol Glycosides and Rebaudioside A? 

The term stevia can refer to a preparation (powder or liquid) of dried stevia leaves or the stevia plants themselves.

Stevia extracts refer to selected molecules used as stevia sweeteners and flavor modifiers extracted from the stevia plant.

Steviol glycosides are the molecules found within the stevia plant.

Rebaudioside A (as well as other Rebaudioside ingredients such as Reb D and Reb M) are examples of specific steviol glycosides found naturally within the stevia plant.

What is the Difference Between Steviol Glycosides and Steviol Equivalents? Is There a Way to Convert Steviol Glycosides into Steviol Equivalents? 

Steviol glycosides are the sweet compounds of the leaves of the stevia plant. Each one is made up of a backbone unit of steviol, with differing numbers/configurations of sugar units attached, specific to that steviol glycoside. In order to address the overall safety of steviol glycosides, many regulatory agencies have created maximum use limits, expressed in steviol equivalents. These limits are then adjusted upward, using a specific steviol equivalent factor, to reflect the molecular weight of the steviol glycoside molecule(s) present (see the table below). 

This table compares the sweetness obtained from 4mg of steviol equivalents/kg body weight to the sweetness obtained from sugar. 

The conversion is based on this formula: 

SG((Conv1 × %SG1) + (Conv2 × %SG2) + …. + (Conv × %SGn)) = x mg steviol equivalents 

SG: the amount of Stevia leaf extract in the product, Conv: the relevant conversion factor for each steviol glycoside and %SG : the percentage content of the relevant steviol glycoside in a particular stevia leaf extract.  

Steviol Glycoside Molecular Weight  Conversion factor 
Steviol 318.45 1.00 
Stevioside 804.38 0.40 
Rebaudioside A 966.43 0.33 
Rebaudioside B 804.38 0.40 
Rebaudioside C 950.44 0.34 
Rebaudioside D 1128.48 0.29 
Rebaudioside E 967 0.33 
Rebaudioside F 936.42 0.34 
Rebaudioside M1291.3.25
Dulcoside A 788.38 0.40 
Rubusoside 642.33 0.50 
Steviolbioside 642.33 0.50 

In the EU(1) and other geographies, the factors to convert steviol glycosides to steviol equivalents are given in the specific regulations and are rounded. They are not the exact factors as would be derived from fully accurate molecular weights. The regulation factors should be used for all calculations. 

Calculation Based on the EU Regulation: 

As an example of how the factors work, in the case of pure, dry rebaudioside A, 80 mg/l steviol equivalents means (80 * 3.03) = 242.4 mg/l reb A. The legal limit on reb A in EU beverages (in the absence of any other steviol glycoside) is thus 242 mg/l. 

(1) EU regulation 231/2012, laying down specifications for food additives listed in Annexes II and III to Regulation (EC) No 1333/2008, OJ 22/3/2012 L83:1-217 

Can Any Extract Solvent be Used to Obtain Stevia Extracts? 

In order for stevia extracts to be used in food, stevia extracts must strictly adhere to established specifications of identification and purity established by national and global food safety authorities. These specifications clearly indicate which food grade alcohols have been included in safety evaluations and are accepted for use in the extraction of steviol glycosides. 

Furthermore, the CODEX General Standard for Food Additives requires that the established specification of identification and purity should be followed, and that all food additives comply with good manufacturing practices (GMPs). Members of the  

International Stevia Council fully support and comply with these laws and standards. 

Does the International Stevia Council Have Guidelines for Extraction? 

The members of the International Stevia Council are committed to the highest standards for the international stevia industry. All members of the International Stevia Council, as a condition of membership in the organization, have committed to producing stevia extracts which meet the specifications established by the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) which provide for the use of water and alcohol extraction in the production of steviol glycosides. The International Stevia Council has also established a leading-edge Proficiency Testing Program for steviol glycosides which helps stevia producers and the food industry continually improve methods of analysis for stevia extracts. This program provides food and beverage manufacturers an important tool in their due diligence efforts in ensuring that they are procuring stevia extracts that meet the legal requirements for use in food.