Last week I was at a garden shop looking through the plant clearance section where all the small pots of herbs were on sale. One of them was a very leggy stevia plant. I knew that stevia is a sweetener that's showing up in more and more food and drinks, but that's where my knowledge of it ended. The price was right, though, and I decided to buy the plant, thinking that I could experiment with producing my own sweetener.
I came home and did some research, which revealed that Stevia rebaudiana is a tender perennial that's native to Paraguay and other tropical areas of the Americas where its use goes back to ancient times. In our area it's treated as an annual. Stevia the sweetner is derived from the plant. It has zero calories and can be up to 300 times sweeter than sugar.
After I learned about the herb's needs I repotted my plant into a larger pot and set the pot in the back yard between the compost bin and the tomato plants. To encourage it to branch out I cut off the long stems, then decided to use the prunings as my first foray into making stevia. I bundled the stems together and hung them upside down in the laundry room to dry. When they were dry I stripped the leaves off, ground them in a spice mill, then pressed them through a sieve.
The resulting green powder looked fine enough, but instead of dissolving in my coffee it unattractively floated on top. Instead of giving up I decided to try making liquid stevia. I added water to the powder and let it steep for a day, then poured the liquid through a coffee filter. The brownish liquid was sweet enough, but I thought it had a chemical aftertaste which reminded me of the Sweet and Low liquid my dad used back in the 1960s.
I couldn't figure out why my stevia sweetner tasted so much different than what I'd had in the little green packets, but then I learned that some stevia brands aren't all herb-they contain fillers and added ingredients that make them taste more like sugar. Pure stevia sweetner is an acquired taste. Since my plant is thriving in our hot, humid summer weather I should be able to harvest more leaves and see if I can acquire that taste.
Five years ago today: Drink Up