Cooking with Stevia (Natural Sweetener)

by Catherine Haug

“How do you use stevia when baking and cooking?” is a question I hear often.  I offer here my tips on cooking with stevia, but first, just what is this sweetener?

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What is Stevia

Stevia is a natural, zero-calorie sweetener from the Stevia rebaudiana herb, a member of the sunflower family; its sweetness comes from the steviosides in the leaves.   It is extremely sweet (200 – 300 times sweeter than cane sugar), so that a little bit goes a long way.

Stevia is available in several forms:

  • powdered dried herb (green color), is minimally processed and can be a “live” food if dried at low temperatures
  • dark liquid extract (minimum refinement)
  • refined, pure stevioside crystals (white)
  • refined stevioside crystals mixed with inulin or other fiber as a bulking agent
  • isolated and refined Rebiana (rebaudioside-A), marketed as Truvia and Pure Via.

Unlike artificial sweeteners, stevia is actually good for you!  It has no calories and is very low on the glycemic index scale, making it suitable for use by diabetics. And it may even improve insulin sensitivity for those who are insulin resistant.

The powdered dried herb is the most natural way to use stevia, as it contains other beneficial nutrients, but its greenness can be undesirable in certain recipes, and its sweetness is inconsistent.  The dark liquid extract is the next best form of stevia, healthwise, and is excellent in recipes calling for brown sugar or molasses.  But I don’t recommend it in lemonade, because it makes the drink murky.

I use stevia extract powder (pure, not cut with a bulking agent) for most of my recipes.  It’s sweetness is more consistent, and it is easy to use.

Interestingly, stevia cannot be recommended or advertised as a sweetener, because the makers of Splenda and Nutrasweet have successfully lobbied against it.  Instead, it can only be marketed as a supplement. However, the highly refined Rebiana (Truvia and PureVia) can be marketed as a sweetener, because it is no longer in its natural state, and only contains one of the several steviosides from the stevia leaf.

How to Use Stevia

You are probably familiar with the single-use packets of stevia, for sweetening coffee and tea.  These contain a combination of refined stevia crystals and inulin or other fiber as a bulking agent, so that it resembles sugar. One packet is the sweetness equivalent of 1 packet of sugar. I would not use this in recipes that call for more than a teaspoon of sugar, as it would simply require too many packets!

Instead, I use just the refined stevia crystals (without the bulging agent).  This comes in a container about the size of a salt shaker.  It is extremely sweet (200 – 300 times sweeter than cane sugar), so that a little bit goes a long way.

Tips & Rules of Thumb:

  • To use the powdered green herb, stir or sift with flour or other dry ingredients in your recipe.  Or make a tea by steeping the powder in the recipe’s liquids. However, knowing how much to use is the hard part, as each batch is different.
  • To use the liquid or powdered extract: Combine the extract with fruit juice and let sit for a few minutes before adding to a recipe. If the recipe does not include fruit juice, substitute diluted fruit juice for all or part of the liquids in the recipe. This helps to reduce any bitterness from the herb.
  • If there are no liquids in the recipe, sift stevia powder with flour and other dry ingredients; for example, to sweeten pie crusts. But be sure to mix it in well so the sweetness is evenly distributed.
  • Use this rule of thumb for converting recipes: 1 tsp stevia extract = 1 cup sugar. However, for recipes that call for more than 1 cup of sugar, use less stevia, as the sweetness multiplies. Also if you don’t want your recipe to be quite so sweet (many recipes are TOO sweet, in my opinion), use 1/2 – 2/3 that equivalence of stevia; for example, 1/2 tsp stevia for 1 cup sugar.
  • Use liquid stevia extract for fruity recipes such as cranberry sauce, fruit pie fillings, etc..
  • For cakes, quick breads, muffins, scones, puddings, pie fillings, cranberry sauce, etc., you could eliminate all of the sugar and just use the equivalent amount of stevia extract powder.
  • Some recipes benefit from using stevia for only part of the total sweetener, and using honey or maple syrup for the remaining part. For example, instead of 1 cup sugar, consider using 1/2 tsp stevia extract powder and 3 Tbsp maple syrup or 4 Tbsp honey. This is especially useful in puddings and sweet sauces.
  • For some recipes like shortbread or other cookies where sugar is part of the cookie’s texture, you will not be able to substitute stevia for more than 1/4 of the total amount of sugar.
  • Sugar helps retain moisture in most baked goods, so if you use stevia instead of sugar, include yogurt or applesauce in your recipe; both help retain moisture.

Sample Recipes

I don’t intend to turn the ESP website into a recipe club, but I offer these sample recipes to give you an idea of how to use stevia.  These will print on 3 x 5 recipe cards.

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