When people see me using Stevia, the average reaction is, “Yuck! I tried using that once, and it tasted gross. I don’t understand how anyone can stand the taste of that. It had a bitter aftertaste.” After using Stevia off and on for the last 11 years, I can understand why they say that, but I also understand what they are doing wrong. They are using it like a sweetener, and are getting the bitter “diet” taste, rather than the sweetness they desire.
Stevia is an all natural plant sweetener that contains zero calories, zero carbohydrates, and zero side effects (unlike artificial sweeteners). It can range from 100 to 300 times sweeter than sugar, depending on how it is processed, and needs to be used sparingly. Zero carb purists want to demonize it along with the artificial sweeteners, claiming that it causes sweet cravings to stick around, and that it messes with the adrenal glands, can cause a need to eat more carbs, etc. But, in most people, this has proven to not be true, as they can consume it and heal their physical issues in the process. (Arguments against Stevia are refuted nicely in this blog post.)
But how can it be used? Well, think about how you use salt. Do you pour it in your foods or drinks, or do you just sprinkle it? How much salt would you say is the right amount in order to season your food without it becoming salty? Chances are, you use just enough to bring out the flavor of your food, but not enough to taste it. Same thing here…use just enough stevia to sweeten your foods or beverages, but not enough to cause it to taste bitter or “diet like”. The general ratio of stevia in relation to sugar is typically ¼ teaspoon stevia to 1 cup sugar. That is a huge difference, but yet people want to rationalize that all sweeteners are the same in how it is used. Yeah—try adding a cup of pure stevia powder to your recipes like you would sugar and see how it tastes. It would taste awful! Using just a small amount goes a long way to sweeten your creations.
Using Stevia in beverages, like coffee or tea, works on the same principle. Liquid stevia is processed a little differently, and just a touch more needs to be used to get the same sweetening power as the pure stevia powder. However, if you expect to use a full teaspoon or two of the liquid, prepare to be disappointed. It is still much sweeter than sugar, and will turn bitter if you use too much. Again, remember that you only need a small amount to make your beverages sweet without tasting like a diet drink. Liquid stevia comes in many different flavors, and can really give your beverages a nice change without adding calories or carbs. I use vanilla crème stevia in my coffee every day. For a 12 ounce cup of coffee, I add one full dropper, which is about ¼ to ½ teaspoon. This sweetens my coffee just as much as 2-3 teaspoons of honey or sugar would. Of course, the less bitter the beverage, the less stevia you want to use. Adjust for taste, really.
The takeaway from this is that you cannot expect Stevia to work EXACTLY like sugar, honey, or any other carb laden sweetener. In fact, if you think of stevia to be more like salt in terms of how much to use, it can help you know how much to use in your beverages and recipes.
One caveat though—Stevia does not crystallize and brown like other sweeteners do. If you need something to brown a bit, try adding a small amount of honey or molasses to your recipe for that browning feature. (1-2 tablespoons should be enough.)
Stevia, when used properly, can allow you to stay on course with a low or zero carb eating plan. Sweet cravings are hard to deal with, but if you have a plan to use only stevia when those cravings rear their ugly heads, you can satisfy them with a minimal amount of calories/carbs, and you can still accomplish your goals. Just because you are working towards a very low or zero carb way of eating does not mean you need to give up sweets altogether. It just takes a bit more planning, that’s all.
Before you go, here is a secret weapon to tackle sweet cravings on zero carb plan: when sweet cravings rear their ugly heads, pour about ¼ cup of heavy cream into a glass. Drop about 10-12 drops of any flavor liquid stevia you like into the cream. Stir and sip slowly. 9 times out of 10, this works for me and keeps me on track.