Owing to its extreme sweetness and negligible calorie content, stevia has become a buzzword in the sweetener industry. Consumers nowadays are seeking best of both worlds, a combination of indulgence and well-being. This consumption trend is creating stevia popular with every passing day!
A sugar substitute is a food additive that imparts a sweet flavor like sucrose (table sugar) without providing a substantial food energy/calories that sucrose provides otherwise. Some sugar substitutes are produced by nature, and others are produced synthetically.
Stevia is the most popular, natural, low-calorie and zero glycemic index sweetener (200-350 times sweeter than sugar), extracted from the leaves of a plant called Stevia rebaudiana, a part of the Asteraceae family.
There are two compounds in stevia which are responsible for the sweetness: stevioside and rebaudioside A. The modern use of stevia primarily involves stevia-based sweeteners.
Artificial sweeteners, for example acesulfame-K, aspartame, neotame, saccharin, and sucralose, despite being approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), have always been under some or other controversies due to their long-term ill-effects. In actuality, certain scientific studies have described them as powerful neuro toxins, impairing the normal functioning of the central nervous system!
Although there are various organic sweeteners available in the market (such as erythritol, xylitol, and yacon syrup), recent studies conducted on human subjects using stevia have made this natural ingredient a favorite sweetener choice of the people. There have been conclusive evidence on stevia’s role in reducing the elevated blood pressure and lowering the blood sugar levels in diabetics.
Stevia contains steviol glycosides, the chemical compound responsible for the sweet taste of the leaves. Although stevia leaf and primitive stevia extracts are not generally recognized as safe (“GRAS”) and don’t have FDA approval for use in food, the FDA hasn’t contested the GRAS status of particular high-purity steviol glycosides for use in food.
August 2017: PepsiCo attempts to patent the stevia manufacturing process.
Perspective: The prime focus of important studies surrounding stevia is to generate less bitter and more sugary-tasting steviol glycoside Reb M. The enzymatic process employed here is effective as well as cost-effective, and will possibly pave the way for further flavor advancement in steviol glycosides.
Perspective: The usage of these organic interventions greatly enhances the sustainability factor associated with stevia production. It also increases consumer’s trust as the term”organic” attracts more focus today than ever before.
How the global market is responding to this natural sweetener?
A report by a market research company, estimates the global stevia market to witness a CAGR of more than 8 percent during the period between 2017 and 2022.
The launching of stevia was perceived with a narrow application range, limited to zero-calorie drink applications, and as a natural replacement for artificial high intensity sweeteners (“HIS”). Stevia not only overtook Aspartame – a major HIS, within its first year of launch, but also quickly expanded to the full sweetener market and across all food & beverage groups.
The climbing health-consciousness observed worldwide (owing to high prevalence rates of obesity and diabetes ) and a paradigm shift from sugar (toward natural ingredients) are expected to be key factors driving the demand for stevia-based sweeteners.
Another factors propelling the development of the natural sweetener are: high investments on R&D by leading giants, growing product innovation with enhanced flavor, increasing product visibility in modern retail formats, and high levels of advertising support.
As stevia-based sweeteners are being increasingly integrated in sports nutrition and health drink products, the growing sports nutrition product and wellness beverage markets are expected to behave as opportunities for the stevia market.
The Main Hurdles for the Market are: A highly fragmented marketplace with supply-chain complexities, various regulatory constraints, and availability of additional low-calorie sweeteners.
Although the requirement for stevia has tripled since 2011, the growth has slowed down due to the bitter aftertaste. A flavor modification (by fine-tuning the chemical composition in a manner that eliminates the bitter aftertaste) can revive the development. The global-level regulatory unification can be achieved by recognized bodies, such as Codex, by efficiently streamlining the different procedures and practices that track the use of stevia extracts in various food products.