Is Stevia really “natural?”
The April 26 New York Times Magazine carried a seductive ad on page 15 for PepsiCo’s “Trop50 orange juice goodness with 50% less calories and sugar…And no artificial sweeteners” PepsiCo performs this miracle by diluting the juice by half with water (really, you could do this at home). But in case the result isn’t sweet enough for you, Trop50 adds the sweetener, Stevia.
PepsiCo can get away with claiming that its juice drink has no artificial sweeteners. Because Stevia is isolated from leaves of the Stevia plant, the FDA lets companies claim it is “natural.”
We can debate whether a chemical sweetener isolated from Stevia leaves is really “natural” but here’s another problem: Stevia doesn’t taste like sugar. Companies have to fuss with it to cover up its off taste. And, they must do so “without detracting from the perceived benefits of its natural status.” Flavor companies are working like mad to find substances that block Stevia’s bitter taste, mask its off flavors, and extend its sweetness, while staying within the scope of what the FDA allows as “natural.”
Yesterday, I received an e-mail from a Stevia PR representative eager for me to see the company’s website. “Naturally delicious” anyone?