Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Steve...

I mentioned in my post on Friday that I no longer use delicious Splenda.  And it's fine, I guess.  But the fact of the matter is that there are some places in my life where I need a sweetener!

I had been using honey as my main substitute (in my homemade salad dressing at lunch and in my cup of decaf green tea).  Well, I started to wonder about all the extra calories I was taking in because of the honey.  One teaspoon has 60 calories and I was easily using that (at least) in the salad dressing - and probably about that much in the tea.  That's 120 extra calories/day.  840/week.  3360/month!  Doesn't around 3000 calories equal an extra pound on your body?

So I set out to see if there's a natural not made from rat poison zero calorie sweetener.  "Stevia" seems to single handedly hold that title.  Apparently stevia is a plant in the sunflower family.  It's also often known as "sweet leaf" or "sugar leaf," because, as you can guess, it has a sweet, sugary flavor.  I noticed when I looked at the ingredients of some herbal teas, stevia leaves were part of the mix (thus giving the teas their sweet flavor).

I wanted to be sure that the kind you buy at the store (marketed as "zero calories sweeteners") weren't too chemical-ed up.  But all the information I could find on the process of extracting and packaging the sweetener seemed pretty natural: they boil a bunch of the stevia leaves in water (extracting the flavor) and then either bottle the extract or dehydrate it so it's in a sugar-like grain.

My first choice was to buy a bottle of extract (which comes with a little medicine dropper for ease of use).  But that setup was ~$12 at Whole Foods.  So instead I went with a box of "sugar packets" (which were approx. $1.50).  Here's a quick little review.

The taste: It's hard to pinpoint what is it, but there's something that tastes a little bit like a plant.  Or maybe that's where my mind goes with the flavor since I know where it comes from?  It's an aftertaste-type thing, though; if I think "plant" while I'm experiencing it, my mind goes to leaves (spinach/radiccio/cabbage/etc.) and the aftertaste-type thing they sometimes have.

The texture: Pretty identical to Splenda (very finely ground and airy).  It maybe takes a few more stirs, though, to completely combine with the liquid.

The amount of sweetness per packet: I was really happy with this, actually.  I don't know if anyone's ever tried a packet of aspertame, but that stuff is intense and they put a ton of it in each serving.  I found the amount of sweetness per packet of Stevia was about what I was looking for.

Will it get the job done: Most definitely in the tea (it adds a nice sweetness and simultaneously cuts its slightly bitter aspect).  Maybe not as well in the salad dressing.  So, I make this mix of olive oil, vinegar, spices, and mustard to make a lovely little salad dressing for my daily lunch salads.  My reason for making my own is so I can control the calories.  To do this, I use more vinegar than oil.  I use the sweetener, therefore, to cut some of the acid.  Well, Stevia didn't really cut the acid.  It was kind of weird, actually.  I do think, though I can use a packet of Stevia and then add a tiny drop of honey and that will have the desired effect.  Either way, even if I stop using the honey in the daily tea, I'm still shaving off some calories, so I consider it a win.

Have you guys tried Stevia?  What are your thoughts?  Are you less forgiving about the plant-like aftertaste than I am?


Amy said...

I tried Stevia once and hated it – thought it was really grainy and gritty. Yuck! Maybe I should give it another try though. I could have just been having an off day!

Have you heard about/tried agave nectar? Same calories as honey, I think, but a lower glycemic index so you aren't jolting your blood sugar around so much. I've used the light before but tried the amber this weekend. Yuck! I'm sticking with the light!

Claire said...

I was going to suggest the same as Amy. Try Agave. I really think you should avoid those artificial sweeteners. Teaspoon of honey a day won't kill you. Or how about the "raw" sugar? I use a bit of that in my coffee every day. In the end, the natural stuff just tastes better. After a while, you won't be able to go back to the fake stuff, promise. :)