Saturday, August 09, 2008

Growing Stevia

I can't wait to grow this. Andrew Weil pointed out that he grows this naturally occurring herb on his ranch. A place called sells them on the internet.

And actually, I've read that Stevia will grow in almost any climate, if it is given good soil, fertilizer, and light conditions. It is sensitive to frost, so if it's outside you have to plant it each year. It likes full sun and in a light, sandy, open, well drained soil. This must be why it grows well for Dr. Weil out in Tucson.

But for you and me out here in the chilly north east rust belt, we should plant it in a planter and keep it inside, again, near a window where it can get full sun. You don't have to futz with it too much, just use a standard garden fertilized.

You can get the Stevia rebaudiana seed, but they don't germinate well. Best to purchase the plant. This, although I'm sure will get easier over time, is not now easy. A quick google search will help you out, but I had a hard time tracking down the local Pittsburgh Stevia Emporium.

That said, once you plant your plant, the Stevia leaves should be harvested in the fall, normallyl early in the morning and then just dried in the full sun. When crispy dry, store in a plastic bag. Break the leaf with your hands or put them a blender to make powder.

I'm not going to use the stuff, although it will be fun to grow the plant and taste the leaves.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Stevia History

For centuries, the Guaraní tribes of Paraguay and Brazil used a plant tthey called ka'a he'ê ("sweet herb"), to sweeten medicinal teas for treating heartburn and other ailments. The leaves of the stevia plant have 30–45 times the sweetness of sucrose (ordinary table sugar).

To prepare it in the traditional way, the leaves of the stevia plant are collected and dried, then crushed to a powder. You may see this light brown powder sold in bags or bottles. Of all of the stevia plant, only the leaves are sweet. The stems and leaf veins tend to be bitter and so are not included in high-quality stevia leaf products. The fresh green leaves can also be brewed to make a tea.

Swiss botanist Moisés Bertoni first described the plant and its sweetness, then in the early 1930's, two French chemists isolated the chemicals that give stevia its sweet taste. These compounds were named stevioside and rebaudioside, and are 250–300 times sweeter than sucrose, heat stable, pH stable, and non-fermentable.

The Japanese:
In the early 1970s, Japan began cultivating stevia so they wouldn't have to eat nasty artificial sweeteners like cyclamate and saccharin, which are suspected carcinogens. They've been using stevia in food products, soft drinks (including Coca Cola), and for table use. Japan currently consumes more stevia than any other country, with stevia accounting for 40% of the sweetener market.

Other asian countries that use Stevia include China, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Malaysia, as well as Saint Kitts and Nevis, and parts of South America (Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Paraguay, and Uruguay) on this side of the Atlantic.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

On Your Mark, Get Set, Stevia!

Here it comes, the next new thing. Stevia has been locked out of the U.S. sweetener market but, perhaps in a battle of the titans, the soda industry has opened a path for its entry.

Over the next few days, I'll be highlighting the science, nutritional and political, behind the new emergence of what some are calling "The Holy Grail" of artificial sweeteners.

For now, let's just start with a definition:
Stevia is in the sunflower family (Asteraceae), and one of about 150 species of herbs and shrubs native to South and Central America. The species Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni itself is commonly known as sweetleaf, sweet leaf, sugarleaf, or just stevia and, as the name implies, is normally grown for its sweet leaves.

Taste charactaristics
As a sugar substitute, stevia's taste has a slower onset and longer duration than that of sugar. If you have high concentrations of stevia, it will take on a bitter or licorice-like aftertaste. Some extraction methods can concentrate the sweetness up to 300 times that of sugar.

Hence, stevia has won attention with the rise in demand for low-carbohydrate, low-sugar food processed food products.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Blueberry Field Trip (with Video)

We invited our groups to come out and pick blueberries, at a private picking event, at a place called The Berry Patch.

Knowing where to go to pick your own berries is a fabulous way to change the culture of health.

This way, you come to understand what quality is, and it becomes harder and harder to justify eating those mealy things shipped in from Peru (or whereever).

If you would like to see the pictures of this outing, along with the video narration, please click here.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Functional Foods Flounder

Sprinkle in a multivitamin into a box of Fruit Loops, then suddenly it turns from a dye and sugar fiesta, into an important part of a balanced breakfast.

But this idea ... of spiking food with individual elements such as omega-3 fatty acids ... is running into trouble.

One UK food company has removed the omega-3 component from its Vitality yoghurt range, citing confusion and scepticism toward fortified foods. In other words, they don't think it matters to you and me as a selling gimmick.

The massive Unilever company has also withdrawn drinking and spoonable yoghurt lines from its Omega-3 Plus in European markets; only the omega-3 spread remains.

According to New Nutrition Business magazine in an editorial this month, “Once the darling of the functional food sector, omega-3 enrichment is no longer the irresistible business proposition that, to some, it appeared to be.

This is good news, not because of the nutritional validity of what they are doing. It is great news because it means that people are becoming more savvy to silliness, and more likely to eat foods that are normal. Consumers are tired of the search for the magic bullet that will save them, the product that they must consume every day for optimal health, and more likely to turn to a process of living well every day.
And that is some good news!!

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