Stevia: The next diet breakthrough
FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- A natural sweetener extracted from a plant could be the next big thing in dieting. Products containing "Stevia" are gaining in popularity -- mainly because it has zero calories.
As Action News Anchor Dale Yurong reports, a small crop being developed here in the Valley is getting global attention.
These Stevia plants thriving in a Chowchilla field could transform the sweetener industry. This sweet leaf is shaking up a market dominated by sugar and artificial sweeteners like Splenda, Sweet' N-Low and Equal. Some of the world's biggest companies are keeping a close eye on the plants growing in this 12-acre test plot.
Koren Sihota heads the S&W seed company's Stevia program. "Really it has all the characteristics of being the sweetener of the future, especially with the low carb."
S&W is banking on the plant's potential. The company raised $15-million on Wall Street to start its Stevia program.
S&W specializes in alfalfa but imported Stevia seedlings from China and India to find a variety best suited for the Valley. Stevia is native to Paraguay.
"That leaf should taste a little different but still should still have sweetness," said Sihota.
Reporter: "Wow that's really sweet."
Sweet drinks like Vitamin Water Zero and Sobe Lifewater contain the Stevia extract REB-A.
Stevia's bitter after-taste is removed while processed into products like Truvia and you don't need much.
Sihota said, "They say some of the Stevia sides can be over 300 times sweeter than sugar."
At Kristina's Natural Ranch Market in northeast Fresno, Jim Belcher is surprised Stevia products haven't caught on with the masses.
"The sodas we can hardly keep on the shelf," said Belcher. "It's usually just candy bars, sodas, and things like that. People get it and put it in their coffee."
Fresno State Registered Dietitian Lisa Herzig says the secret is out among the health conscious. "Oh yes I think at this particular point it's really exploded, ever since it was approved by the FDA to be on the GRAS list, the "generally recognized as safe" list."
Herzig calls Stevia a natural alternative to sugar and artificial sweeteners. "There's been a lot of research that's been done that shows the evidence that it is safe for people who have diabetes. It's safe for people who have blood pressure."
Sihota adds, "No calories, no fat. It's kind of like that home run."
S&W has partnered with Malaysia-based PureCircle, which extracts sweetener from Stevia grown primarily in China.
Over the next two years PureCircle expects S&W to produce two-million pounds of Stevia leaf in the Valley. Companies are lining up to visit this trial plot in Chowchilla. They all want U.S. grown product.
Sihota said, "It's really taken off. The demand through PureCircle and Coke and Pepsi. We had Anheuser-Busch out here on the ranch and they're finding a use to put in their Bacardi's. It's just through the roof."
But it's not a sure thing. This empty plot shows how one variety didn't survive the summer heat while others prospered.
Sihota explained, "They burnt and the plants were right back up with multiple shoots coming back so it's really resilient."
A key characteristic for commercial production of Stevia.
S&W's chairman says the Stevia market is projected at $2-billion dollars in 2012.
"I think it's tremendous," said Herzig. "I mean everybody's looking for that zero calories because as we know obesity is an issue."
Sihota adds, "The idea of you want to be a healthier country, well Stevia is a star."
The star of what may someday become a sweet success story.
stevia, ag watch, dale yurong
- Edison High School ROP teacher shot in classroom
- Authorities file charges in Elbow Room beating
- Spencer Scarber denied new trial in rape case
- Senator Harry Reid in hospital for observation 43 min ago
- Copper thieves flood Tower District businesses
- Valley experts give advice after Target accounts hacked
- SoCal tour bus crash injures 22, kills 1
- Consumer Watch: Handheld video gaming devices
- Operation Bulldog cracks down on gang members
- Freeze impacts one Valley farmer's tropical fruit harvest
- Patriarch off 'Duck Dynasty' after gay comments
- In-N-Out opens in Hanford
- City of Fresno hiring to help city development
- Dozens injured at partial London theater collapse
Most Viewed StoriesMost Viewed Photos