Artificial Sweetners

Essay by AtzelHigh School, 12th gradeA+, December 2003

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For hundreds of years, people in Paraguay and Brazil have used a sweet

leaf to sweeten bitter herbal teas including mate. For nearly 20

years, Japanese consumers by the millions have used extracts of the

same plant as a safe, natural, non-caloric sweetener. The plant is

stevia, formally known as Stevia rebaudiana, and today it is under

wholesale attack by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Stevia is a fairly unassuming perennial shrub of the aster family

(Asteraceae), native to the northern regions of South America. It has

now been grown commercially in Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Central

America, the United States, Israel, Thailand and China. The leaves

contain several chemicals called glycosides, which taste sweet, but do

not provide calories. The major glycoside is called stevioside, and is

one of the major sweeteners in use in Japan and Korea. Stevia and its

extracts have captured over 40% of the Japanese market.


multinational food companies like Coca Cola and Beatrice foods,

convinced of its safety, use stevia extracts to sweeten foods for sale

in Japan, Brazil, and other countries where it is approved.

Europeans first learned of stevia when the Spanish Conquistadors of the

Sixteenth Century sent word to Spain that the natives of South America

had used the plant to sweeten herbal tea since "ancient times".

The saga of American interest in stevia began around the turn of the

Twentieth Century when researchers in Brazil started hearing about "a

plant with leaves so sweet that a part of one would sweeten a whole

gourd full of mate." The plant had been described in 1899 by

Dr. M. S. Bertoni. In 1921 the American Trade Commissioner to Paraguay

commented in a letter "Although known to science for thirty years and

used by the Indians for a...