For the last decade the big three — pink packets of saccharin, aspartame in blue and sucralose in yellow — have fought to a kind of stalemate. But now a new player, dressed in green, hopes to shift the balance of power, opening up the $1.2-billion-a-year world of fake sugar to all kinds of changes.

The Food and Drug Administration agreed in December that rebaudioside A, an extract from the leaves of the stevia plant, is safe to add to food and drinks.

The stakes are high. Despite nagging health concerns and flavors that are about as much like sugar as margarine is like butter, almost half of all American households use some kind of no-calorie sweetener, according to 2007 figures compiled by Packaged Facts, a market research firm. Although finding a no-calorie sweetener that tastes exactly like sugar remains the holy grail, the street fight is getting people loyal to the distinct flavors of one fake sugar to jump to another.

The stevia products that are coming on the market now are not without problems. They cost five times as much as Sweet’N Low, the oldest and least expensive of tabletop brands…But stevia has one distinct advantage over all the rest. Because it comes from a plant, marketers can call it a natural sweetener. And that allows companies that have invested millions in new stevia products to tap into two powerful markets at once: natural ingredients and low-calorie products.

“The question is, do people feel strongly enough about a natural sweetener versus the sweeteners they have been using for however many years and have a strong affinity to, based on certain flavor profiles,” said Gary Karp, executive vice president of Technomic, a market research firm. It’s anybody’s guess, he said.

Stevia has long been popular as a sweetener in Japan and other countries, but for years the United States Food and Drug Administration has blocked it. In 1995, after pressure from the American Herbal Products Association, a trade group, the government allowed its sale as a dietary supplement, not something that could be used as an ingredient in food. But some large food and drink manufacturers, sensing an eager audience for a sugar substitute perceived as healthier than the rest, began investing in research and lobbying the government.

Two of the biggest backers, Cargill and Whole Earth Sweetener Company, earlier this year began rolling out packets of stevia-based sweeteners, called Truvia and PureVia respectively. The extract is in the companies’ drinks, too. Among the new stevia products marketed as naturally sweetened are Sprite Green from Coca-Cola and Trop50, from the PepsiCo subsidiary Tropicana. It’s essentially half water and half orange juice doctored with stevia.

The need for sweet, appreciation of sweet qualities in food is part of our genetic neural wiring. Whatever the source, the battle to replace the taste with something that has few or no calories is big business. It’s a battle royal in the marketplace.

  1. bobbo says:

    I used stevia years ago and the required measurement to equal the same sweetness of sugar was 3-4 times the amount stated making it 15-20 times more expensive than sugar. So, I switch to Sweet and Low. Ran out of S&L last week and had to use real sugar in my coffee. Didn’t like it at all.

    We get used to our poisons.

  2. echeola says:

    I’ve used stevia in the past. Meh. Taste… not so good.

    There might be something to be said about it being used used for thousands of years vrs the 50 or so with other sweeteners.

    Of course so has coca and belladonna.


  3. JMRouse says:

    While there is a lot of hysteria and misinformation out there over the years, there has been little in the way of proof that any of the “big three” artificial sweeteners are bad for your health. Too much real sugar, on the other hand, has been directly linked to obesity and other related health problems. Yes you choose your own poison indeed.

    Taste is subjective. I have been drinking Diet Cokes for so long that a regular Coke no longer appeals to my taste buds. To each there own.

  4. Named says:

    3, 4,

    Only some people have that problem with Stevia. Some cannot handle the taste, others find it pleasant.

    I like sugar myself. I rarely have much of it (only cream in my coffee please) but I find that sugar has absolutely no drawbacks for me. Its sweet, its natural and it does what it says it does. I also don’t drink carbonated sugar waters, so I’m not getting 30 teaspoons of the stuff per day…

  5. Guyver says:

    Stevia is pretty potent… only takes a tiny bit of Stevia compared to regular sugar. Taste-wise, it’s like powdered sugar to me.

    On a somewhat related issue, there is another product popular in Japan for people with a sweet tooth, but it doesn’t directly sweeten anything. It’s called the “Miracle Berry”. From what I hear, when you smear the contents of this berry inside your mouth, it takes everything tastes sweeter / better. Eating lemons directly tastes like you’re eating lemon drops or lemonade.

    The plant is tropical and comes from Africa. Outside of that, it’s my understanding that the berries lose their potency hours after picking.

  6. Thelion says:

    I use to hate the taste of stevia but
    After about 3 weeks of
    Using it in my tea I can’t tell the difference from another sweatner just use it and get use to it stop bitching and moaning and just funking
    Use it or something else. Not everything in this world was made to your perfection. Funk you.

  7. Uncle Don says:

    Before the ban, Stevia was the principal ingredient in Vernors Ginger Ale, and gave it a distinctly different flavor than other ginger ale brands.

    One can only hope they return to the original recipe …

  8. tcc3 says:

    unfounded rumors of cancer (probably started by the sugar industry) in 3-2-1…

  9. dm says:

    Use sugar and get a little exercise.

  10. dogday says:

    Of course being “natural” means nothing as far as it being safe. Mercury is “all natural”.

    Will the companies get a tax break on their carbon footprint since they plant so many carbon sucking little buds?

  11. deowll says:

    I want splenda however only one soft drink maker seems to still be using it. The others have all gone to aspartame.

    The theory is that product can cause memory loss. I don’t think its an issue if you just drink one every few days so that is going to limit my intake of most drinks.

  12. RTaylor says:

    I have stevia in the kitchen now. I only drink two beverages for a variety of health reasons, hot tea and water. In a stronger black tea like an Irish breakfast the stevia was fine. In green and white teas the flavor is too pronounced. Of course all of these substitutes takes some time to get use to.

  13. scadragon says:


  14. dvdchris says:

    It’s about damn time.
    As far as the other comments, I have always found stevia to be sweeter than sugar. And the taste varies depending on the product you are using. Drops taste one way, powders another and there is a taste difference between brands, so you can’t make a judgment on all stevia just from trying one product.

  15. Guyver says:

    5, To each his own indeed. Most studies are not done for lengthy periods of time anyways (for obvious reasons). After about 30 years of use in the food industry, high fructose corn syrup is now possibly getting linked with something called Fatty Liver. Splenda to my knowledge is considered “safe” because your body doesn’t know how to metabolize / digest it. It takes time to establish any long-term ramifications of synthesized or artificial products. I’d rather just eat foods with ingredients that have been in our food supply for a lot longer than a few decades.

    10, I hear one of the tests done to determine if you have cancer is to give you sugar before a body scan. Cancer cells apparently love and thrive off of sugars.

    11. Or just stop consuming so much sugars. People’s consumption of it has dramatically increased…. some of it is their fault. There was a time when drinking soda was only done on holidays and special occasions (unless you were from a rich family). Now people drink it everyday…. some even drink it as their morning drink. Other times, it’s in foods people don’t realize.

    12, To my knowledge there is no legal definition for “natural” in the food industry. So it can mean damn near anything. But I think you’re pretty safe from someone using mercury in the foods you consume. 🙂 Maybe not drinking water in a number of years…. all those energy saver bulbs going to landfills will probably leach mercury into our drinking waters in some way shape or form. But hey! It’s all about going green, right? 🙂

    Now “organic” does have a legal meaning (although there seems to be a fudge factor of sorts)… but it’s interesting to note that Paco down South can take a dump in a field of berries and the farmer can still sell it to us as Organic. Afterall Paco was just fertilizing the field.

  16. gigwave says:

    I wonder if this will be a migraine trigger as aspartame and sucralose are.

  17. Rick Cain says:

    There’s nothing wrong with sugar.  did you know manufacturers are now selling “lower calorie” products by putting sugar back in the food, because corn syrup requires twice as much for the same sweetness, inflating the calorie count.  Sometimes whats old is new again.


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