Blog: Dean BestStevia - a great hype or a great hope?

Dean Best | 18 November 2010

Stevia was a topic on many an exhibitor's lips at the Health Ingredients expo in Madrid this week.

The natural, low-calorie sweetener has been around for decades in parts of Asia and Latin America but, since US regulators cleared its use in food and drinks in 2008 and with a decision from the EU around the corner, more and more manufacturers are studying its application in a range of products.

We've detailed the growing noise around stevia at length over the last few months, from the confidence that Cargill has in the sweetener's potential to the deals signed by suppliers like PureCircle and GLG Life Tech as they prepare for what they believe will be growing demand from manufacturers and consumers.

Cargill was at the HiE expo to showcase its Truvia brand of table-top stevia sweetener and the US food giant remained excited about the ingredient's potential.

Not everyone at the Madrid show, however, was as bullish about the prospects for stevia.

Food ingredients group Beneo, part of German sugar giant Suedzucker, has launched sugar replacement products containing stevia. Claudia Meissner, the company's communications manager, said the industry has started to recognise the difficulties of working with the ingredient. 

Beneo, she said, had been working with stevia since the 1980s and now uses it alongside other ingredients, like bulk sweeteners, in beverage products and confectionery.

"People have discovered that it's not so easy to apply," she said, noting concerns over the ingredient's impact on taste. "It's not so easy to work with."

Meissner acknowledged the industry interest in stevia but said there was "hype" around the ingredient. "Maybe you will prove me wrong and stevia will be the business in 15 years but I don't think so," she insisted. "It will find its place and may be the sweetener of choice in certain applications."

Over at the PureCircle stand, there was a recognition of the noise around stevia and the challenges in using the ingredient. "Stevia is much more complex than people think," PureCircle technical director Sidd Purkayastha told just-food.

However, Purkayastha said PureCircle was keen to assert its determination to drive the sector forward.

"We are very much committed to it but we don't see it as a product-of-the-month kind of deal," he said, insisting stevia had a bright future.

"We don't look at stevia as a niche product; we look at it much bigger than that," he said, arguing that the ingredient will usurp aspartame in the list of intense sweeteners. "Stevia has the potential that aspartame does not."


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