Stevia is an artificial sweetener that has been widely used in most foods as well as beverages in the US as calorie free sweetener. In 2008, the FDA or Food and Drug Administration promulgated it to be generally safe and because of this, it has become increasingly popular and in demand to consumers. The extract of Stevia is hundred times sweeter compared to regular sugar we have known. In addition, it does not also raise blood sugar levels like the normal table sugar. This herb is primarily grown in China, Japan, Paraguay and Brazil.
During harvest, the leaves of the Stevia are cut at ground level then placed in drying wagon. It usually takes one to two days for the leaves to be completely dry out. The dry leaves are then placed in cardboard boxes with plastic liners and are sealed off for processing.
The dried leaves from Paraguay and other places in South America, Japan, Brazil and China are being purchased by the US as well as other countries to be processed into sweeteners. The commercial processing of Stevia includes water extraction, decoloration and purification.
If the stevia plants already dried, they go through the process of water extraction. Approximately half of the crude extract constitutes Reb A or Rebaudioside A. Reb A is known as the sweetest and most flavorful of the different sugar like substances that is present in the stevia plant. It is refined through crystallization and using specialized equipment which separates the different glycoside molecules in the Stevia extract. With this process, manufacturers are allowed to choose only the pure Reb A to be used for commercial purposes.
The last process is known as purification. The crude extract of Stevia is brown in color that has bitter taste and even accompanied by unpleasant odor. Because of these unappealing qualities, the process of purification of the stevia extract is necessitated in order for the final product to satisfy the standards of commercial quality. The purification measures may include separating out certain elements or ion-exchange resins and removal of the brown color or decoloration and bleaching. Once the processes are all completed, it will produce a risk free alternative to sugar.