The leaves of Stevia rebaudiana contain natural sweet-tasting compounds called ‘Steviol Glycosides’ that have gained prominence as a natural source of low-calorie sugar substitutes. The stevia extract fished out of these glycosides is known to be 200-300 times sweeter than table sugar. The process of extracting and refining stevia offers many options, depending upon whether you want the stevia extract in powdered or liquid form.
The wide range of steviol glycosides, despite their near-identical molecular structure, needs to be classified because of the difference in their sweetening power and lingering after-taste. They are then used in varying combinations to produce tabletop sweeteners, seasonings, sauces, and other food and beverages.Some popular, high-quality types of steviol glycosides comprise-
● REB-A: Widely used in food and beverages, Reb-A is the second most abundant glycoside, with a whitish granular appearance and a sweetening power 240 times greater than table sugar. Compared to other Rebaudiana variants, Reb-A has a much less bitter profile and aftertaste.
● REB-D AND REB-M: These compounds are present in very minor quantities in the leaf and are thus difficult to extract in commercially valuable quantities, leading them to be synthetically manufactured. Their 300 times sweeter than sucrose profile with the least unwanted aftertaste, increases their demand as a viable substitute for sugar in food and beverages.
Now that you have an idea about the common steviol compounds, let us now walk you through the journey of stevia from the field to the factory and finally, the market.
● IN THE FIELD: Though native to South Africa, stevia is now cultivated across Brazil, Paraguay, Kenya, etc. Its optimal growth conditions include warm temperatures with abundant sunshine, sufficient rainfall, minimum frost, and porous soil. Leaves from the herb are plucked in bulk and dried, before moving them to the factory for the extraction process.
IN THE FACTORY: The dried stevia leaves are then subjected to a mix of chemical and electrical processes, to extract glycosides from them. The same compounds are then refined for consumption through repeated crystallizations and distillations. The purified product is then shipped in bulk to various stevia extract supplier for their entry into the market.