Stevia offers a natural alternative to sugar, but navigating the options can be confusing. From whole leaf to highly refined extracts, there's a surprising variety of stevia out there. This guide will help you understand the different forms of stevia so you can make the best choice.

Whole stevia leaf and crude stevia extract:

Whole stevia leaves are simply dried leaves from the stevia plant, sold in their natural form. Crude stevia extract is made by steeping these dried leaves in water or a solvent like alcohol. This process extracts the sweet steviol glycosides, but also includes other plant compounds. Unlike highly refined stevia extracts, crude stevia extract undergoes minimal processing and purification. Food manufacturers cannot legally include whole stevia leaves or crude stevia extract in their products because they lack GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) status. The FDA's primary reason for this restriction is insufficient long-term safety data on these less-refined stevia forms, as some older studies raised potential concerns.

Stevia Blends:

In my previous post, I discussed how a lot of stevia extracts used in foods are combined with the sugar alcohol erythritol. Because erythritol functions as a bulking agent for stevia, it does not have to be explicitly listed on ingredient labels, per the FDA. Stevia extracts that are blended with erythritol are highly processed forms of stevia, which I’ll discuss below.

Pure Steviol Glycosides:

Isolated, highly refined compounds of the sweet constituents within the stevia leaf. There are several different sweet steviol glycosides, with the most common being:

Rebaudioside A (Reb A): The most prevalent, can have a slight bitter aftertaste.
Rebaudioside D (Reb D) and Rebaudioside M (Reb M): Considered to have the best taste.

Products featuring pure steviol glycosides exist in both liquid and powder forms. These are manufactured to isolate stevia's sweetness while minimizing the bitter or licorice-like aftertaste. On ingredient labels, look for Rebaudioside A, D, or M rather than simply 'stevia'.

In summary, stevia extracts undergo significant processing and isolation often with hidden ingredients.

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