With a Grateful Prayer and a Thankful Heart: Experimenting with Stevia

Monday, July 27, 2015

Experimenting with Stevia

 This spring I found a stevia plant at the garden center and thought it would be an interesting addition to my herb garden. I have been experimenting with the leaves from the stevia plant to see how it would work as a sweetener.
There are lots of thoughts and opinions on sugar, artificial sweeteners and stevia. This post focuses on my own curiosity with the plant and what I can do with it. Just about every tutorial I read follows the same procedure so I am adding nothing new.

Stevia is a sweetener and sugar substitute extracted from the leaves of the plant species Stevia rebaudiana.The active compounds of stevia are steviol glycosides (mainly stevioside and rebaudioside), which have up to 150 times the sweetness of sugar, are heat-stable, pH-stable, and not fermentable. These steviosides have a negligible effect on blood glucose, which makes stevia attractive to people on carbohydrate-controlled diets. Stevia's taste has a slower onset and longer duration than that of sugar, and some of its extracts may have a bitter or licorice-like aftertaste at high concentrations source
 First I began by adding stevia leaves to a pot of tea to steep along with the tea bags. I didn't think the stevia leaves sweetened the tea enough for me even after rubbing them between my fingers to break and hopefully release more sweetness.
I added additional leaves to a glass of ice but the beverage still was not very sweet.
So, I experimented to see if powered stevia would be more to my liking.
 This is how the stevia plant looks growing in my garden.
 It had grown quite a lot since planting the 4-inch pot in the spring.

Growing stevia is easy in well-drained beds or large containers, and the leaves can be dried for winter use like any other herb. Stevia grows best in warm conditions similar to those preferred by basil. Plants grown in warm climates will grow to 24 inches tall and wide. Where summers are cool, expect stevia plants to grow up to 16 inches. Grow three to five plants for a year’s supply of dried stevia leaves. source: Mother Earth News

Growing tip from Long Time Mother 
To keep your stevia leaves really sweet, you MUST NOT let the plant flower.
Do not let stevia form flowers. As soon as a stevia plant flowers, the leaves lose much of their sweetness.
 On to making dried stevia powder:  After cutting a couple of stems from the plant, I washed them in fresh, cold water several times being sure all dirt and insects were washed away.
 I removed excess water in a salad spinner but rolling in a towel worked well too.
 I snipped the leaves and discarded the stems.
Then spread the leaves on a rack and placed in the sun all day.
 The leaves on this tray were placed directly on the tray and they dried just as well as the ones on the rack.
 The leaves dried and became hard and crushed easily in my fingers.
 I filled a small grinder with the dried leaves and pulsed.
 It resulted in a fine, green powder.
The stevia didn't dissolve in tea (on left) or in coffee (on right).
I read powdered stevia works best when combined with other ingredients such as those used when baking.
The next experiment was to make a stevia liquid extract. 
 I filled a glass jar with clean stevia leaves.
Poured in enough vodka to cover the leaves and wait for the stevia sweetness to be extracted.
(vodka is suggested because it is flavorless and inexpensive. I bought the least expensive bottle available. There are also methods for using water instead of alcohol on the net.)
Finally, I screwed on a lid and waited.
 30 hours later
 I poured off the liquid, draining through a strainer lined with a coffee filter.
 and placed over very low heat
The bottle on the right was cooked for a shorter period of time and is lighter in color and less sweet.
I cooked the remaining liquid in the pot longer to produce a more concentrated and darker colored extract.

Here are some of the things I learned from this experiment:
Growing the stevia plant in the garden is easy. Since it is considered an annual where I live, I have placed a couple cuttings in a jar of water in hopes they will root. It is suggested to root cuttings in soil using a rooting hormone but I will see how it goes using the water method.

Drying the stevia leaves and grinding them to a powder is also an easy process.  However, I am not happy that it doesn't dissolve in the beverages (the most likely way I would use it)

All of the tutorials I read, warn that boiling the stevia liquid will make it bitter so I used the low setting on my electric stove. After cooking for the suggested time of 20-30 minutes, the liquid showed no noticeable signs of reduction. Perhaps I should had brought the liquid just below boiling and began timing at that point. I cooked it 10 minutes longer then filled a small bottle with the liquid and returned the pot to the stove, heated the liquid just to boiling and barely simmered for another 15 minutes. This produced the darker, thicker extract shown in the photo above.

Bottom line, I probably won't be making stevia again. It was a fun experiment and not very complicated, but in actuality it doesn't produce a great quantity and I am not a fan of the different, slightly earthy taste.  I sweeten my coffee and tea with an artificial sweetener that I like a lot.  I limit its use so I am not overly concerned about using it.

If you have made stevia sweetener, let me know how it worked.  I'd love to hear!

  Homemade Liquid Stevia Extract

Fresh stevia leaves, removed from stems, washed and clean of dirt and insects
glass jar with lid

Place leaves into glass jar. 

Fill the jar with vodka, making sure the leaves are completely covered.

Place the lid on securely, shake and set it aside.

Let the leaves steep in the vodka for about 30-36 hours. Longer than this and the extract will be bitter.

After steeping, strain the mixture into a small saucepan, using a strainer lined with a coffee filter.

Gently heat for 20 minutes. Do not let it boil, just warm it up to remove the alcohol and improve the sweetness. It will also thicken up a bit and reduce in volume.

Pour your finished extract into a small bottle; store it in the refrigerator for up to three months.


Sharon - creativity and family said...

That is really interesting. I am not supposed to have sugar so it was good to see how your experiments worked out :-)

Sharon - creativity and family said...

That is really interesting. I am not supposed to have sugar so it was good to see how your experiments worked out :-)

Debbie Huffaker said...

I use Stevia as my sweetener....but buy it in powdered or liquid. I surely don't have your patience. :)

Linda @ Life and Linda said...

Great alternative, however I do not have the patience to do that. Kudos.

podso said...

I admire your determination to try all the different methods. I am drinking tea sweetened with stevia as I read blogs and the after taste is remarkable, so that must mean why it says it gets sweeter after you drink. I am trying to get used to this, and almost am, but nothing in my opinion sweetens my coffee as nicely as the "yellow" packets do!

corners of my life said...

So sorry it didn't work out after all of your efforts. Non-the-less I enjoyed following your experiments. Smiling . . .

Ann Thompson said...

I was just reading earlier about making your own stevia sweetener. I use the stevia packets you buy and like it but have read that the process they use makes it just as bad for you as other artificial sweeteners.
Interesting experiment. The article I read didn't mention that the powder wouldn't dissolve

LitlBits09 said...

I read this with great interest - since I did not realize you could grow so easily. The problem of extracting the sweetener, however, seems to be beyond reason for home use.

I've been using Pure Via as a sweetener for a couple of years - and for me it works well in coffee and tea (and have used over strawberries, etc as you would with sugar. I have tried probably every brand out there and Pure Via, for us, was the best. Some of the other brands left a definite bitter aftertaste which was totally not acceptable!
This is a far better alternative than some of the artificial sweeteners, some of which (aspartame, for instance) are actually quite toxic. (which I learned after doing quite a bit of research on the topic). I discovered, quite by accident, that one of the sweeteners was the cause of my frequent severe headaches...which totally disappeared when I started using Pure Via. For easy shopping (not all stores carry it) we order in bulk from Amazon - have to worry about stocking as often and we always have it with us. I always have a small plastic bag in my purse with my Pure Via - so I don't have to worry about it when I'm out.

Thanks so much for this post....it was most helpful....and I'll know enough not to bother trying...though, since I LOVE playing with herbs, maybe I'll try to find a plant or two.

Best of luck to you. And thanks again!

LitlBits09 said...

In reply to Ann Thompson - the powdered Stevia products you buy DO easily dissolve - even in Iced Tea or Iced Coffee!
The ground leaves will not dissolve...big difference. The same would happen if I grind up Thyme (or other herb) - it will NOT totally dissolve.

Victoria said...

I bought some herbal tea the other day, made a cup and thought it tasted "odd". I checked the ingredients and it had stevia in it, so I'm thinking I'm just generally not fond of the taste. I had no idea what it actually was tho so thanks for this post! I don't have much of a sweet tooth so I think this tea may have to go bye bye:)

marie said...

I bought a Stevia plant, but as is the case with most of my new plants this year, it isn't doing well.
Now that I've read your post I'm not feeling quite so disappointed about not being able to try making the sweetener...thanks for doing all the work for me!! :)
Always love your pretty photos!

Brandi said...

Such an interesting post. Thank you for sharing your experiences with stevia.

Merilyn Lois said...

Thanks for posting!!! Really the tips are boon for me. As I am a diabetic patient, my doctor advised me not to take sugar unless it’s harmful to me. Dally takes two cup coffee and tea, it's my hobby. But without sugar, it’s tasteless. Now I am using sugar free Iced Tea from Stevia My Store, which make me happy healthy life with tasty coffee.


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