Stevia - Natural Sweetner

Summer is right around the corner (though with the temps today you'd think it was already June). With summer in the south come a few staples. BBQ, cook-outs, tomato sandwiches (with Duke's, don't argue), cole slaw and SWEET TEA.

When you grow up in the south sweet tea, and usually REALLY sweet tea, is a given on the table. And in the fridge. It's what you see in restaurants, homes, front porches. But recent years have shown us that guzzling huge amounts of sugar isn't good for us. In our food and our drinks, and our precious sweet tea.

So what do most do? Either drink unsweetened tea, which I actually like, or add artificial sweetener. Which I really dislike. Might be my imagination, but I taste the chemicals so I'd rather drink tea with nothing than tea with that. Plus artificial sweeteners aren't good for you. Bad for you actually - to the point that some argue whether sugar, being natural, is better.

Stevia is packaged and sold as a sugar substitute. I'd heard of it and on a family camping trip tried some in coffee. My cousin had it and was telling me how she'd cut out sugar. I put it in, same amount as the sugar I normally use. NASTY. And cloyingly sweet. Really nasty.

So never really thought about it again. Then, two years ago, when we were setting up our first garden in NoDa Joey saw one at the Home Depot garden center. Since we love to experiment and also love plants that add color, texture, or some other element to the garden we bought one. It grew like crazy. And easily. It looks a lot like a sage plant in leaf structure and color. It grew all summer long before I tried to do anything with it. We had it as a novelty, tasting the sweet leaves and getting others to try them, before really trying it out as a sweetener.

That summer I began to get in better shape. Losing 30 some pounds, cutting out a ton of meats, and cutting out sugar. Since I'd cut sugar out everywhere else I did crave "sweet" from time-to-time. Something new for me. One day I looked up how to use stevia and was surprised at how simple it could be. Forget buying it processed, if you aren't adding sugar to a recipe for the chemical reaction element of cooking - baking for some recipes for instance - it does really well to sweeten...especially tea! The first time I'd tried it, years before, in coffee I had no idea that it can be 20 to 30 times more sweet than sugar. A little goes a long way.

Above: so now our stevia grows in the front year, part of our 'edible landscaping'

So now I make sweet tea during the hot summer months. Same recipe for bags to water (so do what you like and are used to) but no sugar. I add stevia leaves, directly from the plant, to the water once it's off the stove top and the tea bags have been added. They all steep together. We sometimes add mint, always add lemon, and we get the same refreshing heat-beating tea that we've grown up with. There is a slight, to me very very slight, difference in taste. Not the sweet part but a hint of an aftertaste that I don't detect any longer and most folks don't either. A bonus on the other hand, none of that syrupy sweet feeling in your mouth from drinking it that some sugary drinks give - goodbye sugar film, I don't miss that at all.

Oh, as for the coffee. I still can't stand stevia in that - blugh - so the morning beans still get sugar...just a teaspoon, and sugar-in-the-raw!

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