Earlier this summer, The World Health Organization’s cancer agency deemed the sweetener aspartame — found in diet soda and countless other foods — a “possible” cause of cancer. Another group found it safe, in limited quantities.
And last week, a new study led by researchers at UT Health San Antonio found that drinking even one diet soda a day during pregnancy or while breastfeeding could increase your male child’s risk of autism.
If you like to add zero-calorie sweeteners to your coffee or tea, what’s an alternative?
The safest alternative would be to drink just water. However, stevia is a plant-based organic alternative. It hasn’t been proven that stevia is the safest sweetener, but it is an option you can make at home without added chemicals.
Stevia products bought off the store shelves add hidden ingredients, such as sugar alcohols, that don’t make them technically organic, even when labeled as “organic.”
For example, erythritol is added to many stevia products, and a study found that it has been linked to blood clotting, stroke, heart attack and death.
How can you guarantee your stevia is 100% plant-based with no added chemicals?
You can make your own with ingredients right from your herb garden. In this segment of Gardening with KSAT, I attempt to do just that.
It is important to note that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has deemed stevia products safe to use. However, it has not given clearance to stevia whole leaves or extract because more studies need to be done. So make organic stevia extract at your discretion, and remember that anything consumed in large amounts can be harmful.
I had some stevia growing in my herb garden and harvested it to make a homemade extract.
You can grow stevia by seed if sowed in early spring or buy it by transplant from your local nursery.
The triple-digit temperatures did a number on my stevia plant. I probably should have grown this inside since the stevia plant likes cooler summer temperatures, so the amount of useable leaves from my stevia plant wasn’t a lot.
There are many ways to make homemade stevia powder or extract, and not one of them is better than the other. I went down the Reddit, blogger, and YouTube rabbit hole for you to figure out the easiest way.
I decided to make stevia extract over powder because it required fewer tools, and it’s probably easier for our viewers to make at home.
To make stevia extract, here is what you’ll need:
- fresh stevia leaves that haven’t been dried
- a small bottle of vodka
- a small jar
- a sauce pan
- a strainer or coffee filter
Steps to making stevia extract:
- First, pick off your stevia leaves from the stems, wash them and chop them up. Get rid of all the dried or dead leaves.
- Depending on how many leaves you have, place in a small jar. I didn’t have a lot of leaves, so instead of using a pickle jar, my leaves fit better into a smaller spice jar.
- Pour your vodka over the leaves in the jar and close it tightly. Different recipes call for different amounts, but most suggest to pour enough to cover your leaves. Shake your mixture lightly, and do so a couple of times while the leaves steep.
- Let the mixture sit for 24-48 hours. Different recipes suggest different time allotted for steeping, but I found that 24-48 hours seems to be what most suggest. Almost all say that if you let it sit for longer than 48 hours, the extract will start to taste bitter.
- Pour the mixture into a strainer or coffee filter over a sauce pan. You can squeeze out all the extra liquid from the leaves.
- Cook the extract in the pan for 20 minutes on a low heat while stirring often. Do not let it boil. The low heat allows the alcohol to cook off and improves the sweetness.
- Let it cool and pour into a dropper bottle and store it in the fridge. This will stay good for a several months. Usually only one or two drops in your coffee is enough for effect.
My extract turned out nicely, and I will use it sparingly in my coffee or tea. Happy gardening!