Monday, January 14, 2013

Pantry Staple - Stevia


In my experience people either prefer savory or sweet foods and there is very little in-between. There are those unfortunate people who like both savory and sweet flavors which is another conversation entirely.
(my 100% whole wheat focaccia with sun-dried tomatoes)

I definitely fall into the savory camp.  Give me a warm piece of bread fresh out of the oven and a little unfiltered extra virgin olive oil to dip it in and I am in heaven.  Can’t you just taste it?   *swoons*  Fortunately, I know that none of this is good for me so I keep my intake of these items to an absolute minimum.

(Strawberry banana soft serve... Dan's favorite)

On the other hand my husband is a sweet person through and through. His sweet tooth is ravenous and he loves anything containing sugar. The problem is that sugar (like refined flour in my beloved bread) isn’t good for any of us because it spikes our blood glucose, increases our insulin and promotes fat storage. Remember that the next time you reach for a cookie or bread and you might just think twice before eating it.  That trick works for me.  J

While I can just say no to many things Dan didn’t want to give up sweetness so I had to find a healthy alternative. We tried agave (fructose is evil, will write that in the future), brown rice syrup (trace levels of arsenic), artificial sweeteners (gasp can you believe it?), Zsweet (not bad) and finally we have landed on stevia.  Currently stevia is the sweetener of choice at our house. However I know that it is not as common as some other items and that there are many misconceptions about what stevia is and what it isn’t so I thought a post on it was in order.

What is stevia?

Stevia is a small plant that grows wild in South America (Paraguay and Brazil) where it has been used as a sweetener for hundreds of years.  It is easy to grow here in the US even in climates like mine where we get a cold winter. I buy mine from a nursery off Route 50 in Davidsonville (Homestead Gardens) or from Calvert Farms at the Baltimore Farmers’ Market under the JFX. You will have to replant each year as it doesn’t survive our winters.  If you grow your own one leaf or less will usually provide enough sweetness.

If you don’t want to grow your own, which is the most natural version, you can buy powdered or liquid stevia. I have found it at Harris Teeter, Wegman’s, Whole Foods and our local health foods stores.  There are green powders (not bleached) and white powders. The green “seem” more natural to me but many people probably don’t want the green color in their food.  The powders leave a little residue (cloudiness) in clear liquids which doesn’t bother me but it may you. The liquid stevia doesn’t need to dissolve and disappears completely into clear liquids.

(spinach salad with miso mirin dressing sweetened with stevia)

Is it safe to use?

Stevia has been used in South America and Japan for a long time without any reported side effects.  I read a study that looked at 30 years of stevia consumption in Japan which couldn’t find any adverse effects.  However it is worth nothing that the average use of the people in this study was 5 servings per day and Americans tend to prefer much more sweetener in their food than Japanese. 

At our house stevia is used in Dan’s green smoothies, strawberry banana soft serve, some salad dressings and occasionally other sweet dishes.  However I doubt that Dan’s consumption of stevia reaches 5 servings per day.

On a very positive note an article in the journal Nutrition and Cancer discussed the antitumor activity of stevia in regard to breast cancer.  Obviously more research needs to be done but this result certainly strongly suggests that stevia can be a regular part of a healthy diet. Remember what is true for breast cancer tends to generally be true for the other hormonally-driven cancers like: ovarian, endometrial and prostate.

How does it taste?

Stevia is 200 times sweeter than sugar. This means if you buy it without bulking agents you need very little to sweeten your food.  Start with the smallest amount possible as using too much can turn your food bitter which is the most common complaint that I hear.

(my healthy caponata which uses stevia for its sweetener)

Is it heat stable?

Unlike most of the non-sugar sweeteners stevia is heat stable. However you can’t substitute it one for one in baking because it doesn’t melt and turn liquid like sugar so the chemical reaction you need for bakery products does not occur. However you can use it if you need to sweeten things like:  caponata, cranberry sauce or apple butter.

Happy thoughts:
  1. I am happy to report Dan stayed home today to catch up on his rest. However his temperature has been under 100 all day.  *happy dance*  J  Something tells me my baby is on the mend.  Love that!
  2. Very importantly I was able to get some sleep last night which was so wonderful. I am almost starting to feel like myself again.  Sometimes we all forget how important little things like sleep really are until we aren’t getting them.  Feeling pretty good today I can now realize how dysfunctional I was yesterday.  I can only imagine how coherent yesterday’s post was. I hope it made some sense.  *rolls eyes*  I am almost afraid to go back and read it.  LOL
  3. I almost feel bad being happy about this one but I am happy so I am sharing it with you.  I have recently (within the last few months) discovered Zulily and have been on a bit of shopping bonanza. It is so bad that I actually needed to put myself on a “Zulily time out”.  One of my orders recently was lost and I was a little sad because it contained some clothing that I really wanted.  Today the package arrived after being told it was lost. I called Zulily to tell them to recharge me since they had already reversed the charge. They thanked me for my honesty and told me their policy was for me to keep it no charge.   I said that I felt a bit guilty about not paying for it and said, “please don’t, consider it repayment for the problem”.  Well if I weren’t already a happy Zulily customer I would be after getting my item for free because it was delayed a few days.  Since I was so blown away by the customer service I wanted to share my experience with all of you.
  4. Today Dan was feeling good enough to ask me to cook something for him. This is huge because he has been living on green smoothies and juice for the last few days.  He wanted something “carby” since he dropped 4 pounds in 4 days being sick.  *shakes head*  Dan wanted roasted potatoes and cauliflower. To that I added carrots and chickpeas for a little color and protein. Then I tossed the raw potatoes, cauliflower, and carrots and cooked chickpeas with sherry vinegar.  I add no-salt seasoning, fresh black pepper and smoked paprika and roasted everything on a sheet pan on 350 convection until the veg were cooked and brown.  If I had cilantro I would have minced some and added it after the cooking was finished.

(Dan's dinner of Spanish flavored roasted cauliflower, carrots, potatoes and chickpeas)

Signing Out:

It is getting late here so it is time for me to log off.  I hope that your week started well. Today feels like a Sunday here since Dan was home.  Tomorrow we will be getting back to our normal routine it appears.  As much as I like having Dan home I would rather he be healthy and at work then sick at home.  Knowing my husband he will probably end up going into the office this weekend to make up for being home sick. Let’s hope that I am wrong about that.

I hope you have a fabulous Tuesday.  Ciao for now, in other words arrivederci (until we meet again). 


  1. Hi Ali. Just wanted to check in and say happy new year! Lots of Love, Aimee xo

    1. Hey Aimee,

      It is so nice to hear from you. I hope all is well for you and yours in the Pacific Northwest. Happy New Year to you too! :-)

      ((big hugs))

  2. You just made me realize I can add cauliflower when I'm roasting vegetables for my lunches at work! My husband doesn't like it so I haven't been using it. I don't know why I didn't think of this.

    You had been talking the other day about 'treats'. I found a Chia seed chocolate pudding recipe that I thought would be the perfect 'healthy' treat. It just had Chia seeds, soy milk, cocoa powder, and agave nectar. It was delicious and very small portions, so I ate both servings since my husband didn't like it. Your post kept nagging at me, so I ran the nutritional information...I ate 300 calories and about 5 grams of fat in that little bit of pudding! Darn it...:->

    1. Statch,

      We love roasted cauliflower. :-) Brussels sprouts, sweet potato, winter squash, and broccoli are also commonly found on the roasting pan here too. Your hubby may prefer those to the cauliflower.

      Sorry to hear about your chia seed pudding. However on the bright side you ran then numbers and now you know. It is so crazy how easily the calories add up. My downfall is bread and grains so I just monitor those. For other people it is sugary things. Once we learn where we tend to go off track it is easy to keep things under control. So glad I could help. I really appreciate you sharing it too. Most people would never think that chia pudding could ever be a problem.

      Hope you have a great Wednesday,


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