What is Stevia?
Comprised of around 240 species of herbs in the sunflower family (Asteraceae), Stevia can be found growing wild in South America and southwestern regions of North America. It's believed to have first been discovered by Spanish scientist Petrus Jacobus Stevus (Pedro Jaime Esteve) , whose surname was used as the basis for the Latin Stevia. In the late 1800's Swiss botanist Moisés Santiago Bertoni, who had immigrated to Paraguay, documented Stevia's use by indigenous tribes of the country, who called it kaa-he-he. They used it as a flavor enhancer in their drinks and foods, and would also chew the dried leaves for their refreshing taste and sweetness. Bertoni continued to study the herb until finally publishing his findings in 1899 and naming the plant Stevia rebaudiana bertoni. In 1921 American Trade Commissioner George Brady presented information on Stevia to the USDA, calling it "a new plant with great possibility" for commercial cultivation, but the idea never gained enough interest to merit further experimentation.
Not much was heard of Stevia until ten years later, when two French scientists successfully isolated the active components that give Stevia its sweet taste, two glycosides named stevioside and rebaudioside. These isolated glycosides were not only 300 times as sweet as sugar, but they were heat- and pH-stable, and non-fermentable as well. Just a few years later, during World War II, Great Britain was faced with an imminent blockade of the British Isles by Germany and began exploring alternative natural foods they could cultivate to sustain the population. Stevia was one of the plants they experimented with, but the region wasn't warm or humid enough to allow for its successful mass cultivation, and so the British ultimately abandoned their efforts.
In the early 70's Stevia saw its first commercial success in Japan, when a government ban on carcinogenic chemical food additives forced manufacturers to explore natural alternatives. Southern Japan, unlike Great Britain, is warm and humid enough for stevia to be successfully cultivated on an enormous commercial level, and use of stevia as a natural sweetener in food and beverages exploded. By the 1990's Japan accounted for over 40% of the world's stevia consumption, and Stevia is still widely-used there today.
Advances in science, and our understanding of Stevia, have finally culminated in its approval for use as a commercial sweetener in the U.S. These same advances have helped our in-house research team in the development of a new proprietary, full-spectrum, enzymatically-treated Stevia we call Better Stevia™.