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Volume III
June 15, 2012

Weekly Home / Cook'n & Eat'n

Move OVER Sugar!

By Alice Osborne

Since most of us crave, or at least really enjoy our sweets, food processors capitalize on this and add highly refined sweeteners to just about everything so we'll buy more. Profit, and never health, is their focus.

But as health is MY focus, I've tried all sorts of ways to come up with a healthy approach to having my sweets and eating them too. But the sugar substitutes I've tried over the years were disappointing.

Then I found stevia! I've written about stevia before, and for good reason. It's an herbal sweetener - green stevia powder and dried leaves are up to 15 times sweeter than cane sugar. And the extract powder can be up to 300 times sweeter than sugar. (Since it takes very little to sweeten a recipe, cost should be evaluated on that basis.)

It is non-glycemic, safe, and virtually calorie-free. It has undergone hundreds of toxicity tests, with NONE showing any harmful effects. Few substances can make that claim. It's been used for centuries by native populations in Paraguay and Brazil without any adverse effects, and in the last 20 years thousands of tons of stevia extracts have been consumed - again, with no harmful effects.

Stevia has been shown to have a regulating effect on blood sugar levels, and long term use is showing great results in strengthening the heart and vascular system. ?And something else - research is showing that many strains of harmful bacteria do not thrive in the presence of stevioside. As a result, mouthwashes and toothpastes are now incorporating stevia into their ingredients. Unlike sugar, science is showing that stevia is actually good for teeth!

But best of all, stevia offers a healthy, natural, and tasty alternative to cooking and baking with refined sugar or artificial sweeteners. Well, tasty if you find the right brand and if you use a recipe designed for stevia, that is. I have swapped out the sugar for stevia in many of my recipes with pretty good results. But I've found that the best end product comes when I use a stevia-focused recipe.

My favorite brand is Sweet Leaf. I especially like their liquid flavored stevia.

My favorite is vanilla, but the chocolate, pineapple, coconut, and peppermint are also great. I add the vanilla stevia to my green drink each morning. And the vanilla and all the other flavors are superb in whipped cream. The powdered or granulated stevia is also a great substitute for granulated refined sugar.

There is a learning curve involved if you want to switch from sugar to stevia. It cannot simply be inserted where a recipe says "sugar." Here are a few things to know right off the bat:

•  By volume, much less stevia than sugar is required. Approximately 1 teaspoon stevia extra powder or 3-4 teaspoons green stevia powder is used instead 1 cup sugar.
•  It keeps well, so go ahead and buy in bulk. A sealed container is best for long term storage. Don't refrigerate.
•  Stevia recipes don't brown well. Browning is improved by using other ingredients such as fats or milk.
•  When baking with stevia, use either slightly less liquid or slightly more flour than would be used in recipes with sugar.
•  It's much fluffier than sugar and scatters with the slightest disturbance. So thoroughly mix stevia with either dry or liquid ingredients. I like to sift it two or three times with the flour, salt, and leavening ingredient.

Finally, I conclude with a recipe for a maple syrup that's really protected me from sugar binges. I love pancakes and waffles but I can't get excited about topping them with sugar-free applesauce, like so many sugar-free cookbooks suggest. This syrup does the trick:

Maple Apple Syrup

Yields 1 1/4 cups

1/4 cup water
1 cup natural apple juice
1 tablespoon cornstarch or arrowroot
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 teaspoon stevia extract powder
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 teaspoon maple flavoring

Stir together water, apple juice, and cornstarch. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to simmer and cook an additional 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in remaining ingredients. Refrigerate leftovers in a covered container.

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