Due 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 each passing day!
A sugar replacement is a food additive that imparts a sweet taste like sucrose (table sugar) without providing a substantial food energy/calories which sucrose provides otherwise. Some sugar substitutes are made 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 named Stevia rebaudiana, a component of the Asteraceae family. The plant is native to Paraguay (South America) but also grows in other tropical and sub-tropical locations. The stevia leaves have been used for centuries by the indigenous Guarani natives of South America as a traditional sweetener. The modern use of stevia primarily involves stevia-based sweeteners.
Synthetic sweeteners, such as 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 natural sweeteners available in the market (such as erythritol, xylitol, and yacon syrup), recent research conducted on human subjects with 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 high blood pressure and lowering the glucose levels in diabetics.
Stevia comprises steviol glycosides, the chemical compound responsible for the sweet flavor of the leaves. Although stevia leaf and crude stevia extracts are not generally recognized as safe (“GRAS”) and do not 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 efficient in addition to cost-effective, and will possibly pave the way for further flavor advancement in steviol glycosides.
Perspective: The usage of such natural interventions greatly enhances the sustainability factor associated with stevia production. Additionally, it raises customer’s trust as the term”organic” fetches more attention nowadays than ever before.
How the global market is reacting to this natural sweetener?
A report by a market research company, estimates the global stevia market to witness a CAGR of over 8 percent during the period between 2017 and 2022.
The launching of stevia was perceived with a narrow application range, restricted to zero-calorie beverage 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 categories.
The climbing health-consciousness observed worldwide (owing to high incidence 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.
The other factors propelling the development of this natural sweetener are: high investments on R&D by major giants, growing product innovation with improved flavor, increasing product visibility in modern retail formats, and elevated levels of marketing 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 act as chances 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 other low-calorie sweeteners.
Even though the demand for stevia has tripled since 2011, the growth has slowed down because of the bitter aftertaste. A flavor modification (by fine-tuning the chemical composition in a way that eliminates the bitter aftertaste) can revive the development. The global-level regulatory unification can be achieved by recognized bodies, such as Codex, by effectively streamlining the different procedures and practices that monitor the use of stevia extracts from various food products.