It's not an artificial sweetener, and does not contain fructose. Turns out it's related to licorice. My next question was, what kind of effect does it have on us? After all, fructose is natural, but wreaks a lot of havoc on our bodies.
Stevia is a South American plant, from in and around Paraguay. It has been widely used there for hundreds of years, and has been in commercial use by Japan since the 1970's. Stevia also suffers from some bad science; there are some old, poorly executed studies that conclude that stevia can be harmful. Even though the studies have little validity, their flawed conclusions have lived on.
Whether fresh from the plant or dried and ground into powder, stevia has medicinal qualities, like many herbs do, if consumed in large quantities. In small amounts, there seems to be little effect. This is why the FDA allows it to be sold as a supplement, but will not allow it to be sold as part of a food product. Before trying it, read about how it affects the body, especially if you have a medical condition and/or are taking prescription meds. I think I'm going to try it, as the effects sound positive for me.I have read that stevia leaf is very sweet, with a bitter aftertaste. I've read that you should steep and strain it, like tea. This must be true, based on the mixed reviews. The one-star reviewers say it smells and tastes horrible, doesn't dissolve, and turns their food green. Some five star reviewers think it is wonderful, but pretty much also admit they aren't accustomed to sucrose, so their tastes might not be main-stream. There's also that bitter after-taste to consider.
Stevia Extract (the white stuff)Some companies have extracted Rebaudioside A from the plants (via a process that doesn't sound all that natural). That is the least-bitter "sweet" molecule. Testing of this product has satisfied the FDA, showing that this extraction does not have medicinal effects. Truvia and Purvia are two Rebaudioside A products.
I'm probably going to try both the leaf and the Reb-A product. It's a thing that must be done. ;)
I tried the powdered stevia leaf, and found it to be pretty wild tasting, like eating super-sweet grass clippings; not sure what I'd put it in. I'll pass on getting a plant and pulling off leaves, and I probably won't mess with the powdered leaves any more, either.
I also tried Stevia in the Raw, because the filler they use is dextrose. It has the "high" sweet plus a significant bitter note. Usually when I want to add sweet, I don't want to add bitter. If eaten regularly as the sole sweetener, it will likely skew the taste buds the same way artificial sweeteners do. I might try it in sodas that need an extra bite of bitter, eventually.
This stuff is a powder that has no filler at all, but would be easier to over-sweeten with due to how extremely concentrated it is. I haven't tried it.