by Marion Nestle
Jul 17 2008

Cargill’s Truvia (Stevia) comes to town

I missed the Rockefeller Center launch of Cargill’s new sweetener, Truvia, but the press people followed up by sending me a sensational press kit in a gorgeous garden tote, complete with gloves. What can I say. It’s another artificial sweetener (OK, it’s an extract of plant leaves, which they claim makes it “natural”), this time in a little green packet. The press kit included a chocolate bar “made with Truvia natural sweetener.” It tasted like a dark bitter chocolate of the waxy type. Andy Bellatti of Small Bites, who works in my department, pulled out a Lindt dark chocolate bar for comparison. Truvia 191 calories vs. Lindt 210. No contest, I’d say. One thing intrigues. The packets and chocolate have Nutrition Facts labels, but the FDA has never approved Stevia so it’s been marketed as a dietary supplement with Supplement Facts labels. Reports are that the FDA is considering its approval as Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS).  But to date the FDA has not approved it.  How is Cargill getting away with this? It plans to team up with Coca-Cola to seek international approval for it on the basis of research which they claim demonstrates its safety. But neither the website nor the press kit give the protocols for the studies or the actual data so it’s hard to judge. Cargill says it worked with FDA on this. FDA is letting Cargill use a Nutrition Facts label? On an unapproved product? Well, Cargill is a giant company and I guess it knows how to get what it wants. Oh. And how does Truvia taste? Sweet, with a bitter aftertaste. Is everyone waiting for this? Or is it just me who prefers sugar?

  • Matt
  • Guess I have to check Wikipedia to see if Cargill is another synonym for Greed. Oh, they’re already there? Whew!

    I mean, com’on, at a time in the world where we definitely need to switch away from HFCS and artificial sweeteners, to, authentic natural sweeteners, these guys go 100% in the wrong direction.

    I’m sure the human/rat test subjects at McDonalds Will Love It.

  • Frank

    If stevia is a plant extract, isn’t it an authentic natural sweetener? Is there a presumption that anything that is sweet, but not a traditional monosaccharide, is unhealthy?

  • Sheila

    Give me regular sugar, any day, any time.
    If I want something sweetened, I sure don’t want a bitter aftertaste,which I seem to experience with every sweetener on the market. By the way, why is it called “sweetener” if it tastes bitter?

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  • Andre’

    Many issues here…. wow.

    Let me say – it’ s shocking that I am gonna have to say Cargill actually has a natural product here — unless something major is left off their FAQ. My perspective comes from 20 years in the natural food industry, having owned a hugely successful Natural Foods store for over a decade. I’m a 25 year vegan (plus bee products) and have always done a LOT of research on sweeteners. Interestingly enough– this TRUVIA isn’t vegan in the classic sense (uses bee pollen in the processing)– but many vegans are coming to their senses and adding in Bee products, realizing they are all potent, healthy PLANT products processed by bees….

    First of– as counterintuitive as it is… Cargill has actually done it here- – They have actually come up with a natural, zero-calorie sweetener. Period. By definition — it’ s no less “natural” than sugar or even some brands of honey, which technically get processed a lot with filtering and heat.

    The reason – I suppose – they can get away with using “Stevia”, while it’s illegal in the USA for consumption — is that they are only using an EXTRACT of Stevia — the rebiana.

    It’s funny– this is basically the endgame of companies like Cargill, Monsanto and the Sugar Monopolies etc.

    They’ve been “fighting” the natural industry for decades — When they can’t BUY a company — the force them through impossible, expensive hurdles via their proxies in the wholly-owned FDA. Ok , just about wholly owned, there are some good people there.

    Anyway — Just my theory – but interesting how it worked out – -it was brilliant — keep the natural market from developing the market for Stevia here in the USA (Coca-Cola and many other US companies have been using Stevia, especially in Asia– in Diet soda for ages… and pretending here at home that they don’t know about it…

    Meanwhile– they were developing an NEW product, with a name and formula that could be PATENTED..(which is what Cargill et al doesn’t like about TRULY NATURAL products — YOU CAN’T PATENT THEM..! )

    So– touche, checkmate — they can trump the whole natural industry and consumers and our long & hard work fighting for USA Stevia usage in one move.

    If they get their way –TRUVIA be the only way the general US public is introduced to Stevia, this will be the gold standard…and they win by truly being able to market it as “completely natural, made from basic plant materials, processed in completely natural ways (water distilling, fermentation) – so they can market full on against the toxic Nutrasweet/Aspartame, and Splenda or Sucralose. Lest you compare this to Sucralose– remember Sucralose — while it too STARTS out with natural ingredient (cane sugar), it is then processed in a toxic, un-natural way with chlorine, and there are all kinds of issues with the chlorine depositing in your digestive tract.

    Brilliant. And hey — in many ways still a VICTORY for those of us on the natural side –our pressure on corporations to create stuff from ‘real’ ingredients is clearly making major dents- witness Kellogg’s (or is it General Mills) going 100% whole grain , and major pizza chains Pizza Hut & Papa John’s adding multigrain crusts and organic tomato sauce (!) to their menus.

  • Hi Marion and all… Wondering… A coworker gave me some Truvia packets to try, and I see that Erythritol, a sugar alcohol, is the first ingredient listed, rebiana second, and then “natural flavors” (a soy derivative maybe? Anyone know?). For those of us fighting diabetes who like sweetener in our tea, Stevia has been a godsend. But those made with sugar alcohols typically bring along a lot of gastric distress. Anybody have a sense of side effects with erythritol?

  • jalene

    Hope this helps with the question of erythritol…

    What is erythritol?
    Erythritol is an all-natural, no-calorie alternative to sugar. It looks like sugar, feels like sugar, and bakes and tastes like sugar.

    While its name may seem terribly scientific, erythritol is found in nature at low levels in grapes, melons and pears and can be found at higher levels in fermented products like wine. Each day, it is estimated that we consume somewhere between 30 and 100 mg of naturally occurring erythritol in our regular diets.

    Since the late 1980’s, erythritol has been used as an ingredient in foods and beverages in Japan, and was more recently approved for use in the U.S. and Canada. These approvals were based on extensive scientific studies reviewed by an expert panel of independent doctors and scientists.

  • Those without caring consideration for others have by definition ignored the basic principle of sustainable living: Everything they do is subject to promoting a lie and harming someone else, even their own family members. Cargill operates with ‘purchased legal approval’ … and their product outcomes are highly questionable as a result. When the highest well-being possible is the first goal of human creativity, our time and energies will not be wasted on fear-based … solely and temporarily self-serving … greed and power activities. These are creating a very sad world in which humans live. As humans, we are either ignorant of the problems caused by giant corporations … or we live terrorized by what they have done or will do next to restrict and poison most of our choices. Our daily productivity now requires a constant search for the truth and finding better choices. Voting with our informed minds through our pocketbooks is all they understand … which is why they are currently trying to limit discussion of the word ‘food.’

  • To Andre: Just for clarification, a vegan is someone who uses NO animal products or animal derived products. Someone who uses bee products is NOT a vegan any more than somebody who eats eggs or drinks milk is a vegan. Please stop deluding yourself. And also please stop trying to delute a term that has a very clear meaning. If you want to call yourself a vegan, then be one.