For centuries, the sweet Stevia plant has been used by the native Guarani Indians of Paraguay as a flavour enhancer, a herbal tea and medicinal purposes, like healing wounds. In Latin America and the Orient, folk applications for the Stevia plant are diverse, including aiding digestion, nourishing the liver, pancreas and spleen, stimulating alertness and also in skin care.
Only discovered by western society in 1899, commercialisation of Stevia did not increase rapidly until Japan banned artificial sweeteners during the 1960's. By 1980 Stevia was being used in hundreds of food products throughout the country. Today, about 40% of the sweetener market in Japan is Stevia-based.
This was an astonishing advance given that as recently as 1921 scientists were just getting round to naming Stevioside as the main constituent, and the molecule wasn't accurately described until 1931, when scientists reported it to be a white, crystalline, hygroscopic powder, approximately 300 times sweeter than cane sugar. By 1963, the complete chemical structures of the active molecules of Stevia were finally worked out. To jump from there to the status of a major food sweetener by the mid-70's was a truly astounding feat.
In recent years, Stevia has attracted much interest from health and weight conscious consumers, especially those suffering from hyperglycemia and blood sugar disorders. Some users have even reported that drinking Stevia tea helped to reduce their desire for tobacco and alcoholic beverages. Stevia can be found in many medicines and vitamins, as well as lozenges, mouthwashes and toothpaste - it is believed Stevia may help to prevent cavities.
Stevia and its variants have been increasingly refined over the last decade to where we now have much improved products, such as PureSweet®, to the point where it is now more compatible with a vast range of food, beverage and pharmaceutical products.
In summary, for over 30 years Stevia has been used commercially in Japan, Korea, China, Latin America and now Australia and the United States as a natural sugar substitute in a wide variety of food and beverage products, including processed fish and meat, pickled vegetables, soft drinks, fruit juices, yoghurts, soy products, desserts, baked goods, snacks, chocolates, confectionary, pastries, pasta, sauces and wines. It is also used a basic tabletop replacement for sugar and artificial sweeteners.