It is sweeter than sugar and can be grown in your kitchen garden. Stevia, a herb native to Paraguay in Latin America, is coming to India to be used as a sweetener and flavour enhancer in food and beverages in place of sugar.
"If you've ever tasted stevia, you know it's extremely sweet. A white powder extracted from the dry stevia shrub leaves is approximately 200 to 300 times sweeter than sugar," Stevia Biotech Pvt Ltd managing director Sourabh Agarwal told IANS.
"It is a zero calorie sweetener and without any side effects. It can replace sugar in every aspect," Agarwal said.
In Paraguay, stevia has been used as a sweetener and flavour enhancer for centuries, he said.
His company has approached different departments attached to the Indian agriculture ministry to step in to clear projects to propagate its cultivation across the country.
According to stevia.net, "you need not be a South American planter to be a successful stevia grower".
"While the herb's native locale may make it appear somewhat exotic, it has proved to be quite adaptable and capable of being cultivated in diverse climate zones," it said.
According to Agarwal, "The climatic condition in our country is suitable for its cultivation."
He said stevia can even be grown in one's garden.
"It is easy to maintain and can grow anywhere. For commercial farming of stevia, one needs to make sure of factors like temperature, soil type, water type and availability and planting material for maximum yield with a great quality," he said.
Agarwal said that stevia is a "suitable replacement for sugar" for the calorie conscious as well as diabetic people.
"People have found that its regular use helps in reactivating the insulin secreting cells in the pancreas," he said quoting clinical studies.
Stevia, a bush type plant, flourishes most in temperatures ranging between 10 and 35 degree Celsius. It grows well in red soil and sandy loam soil with water available in abundance. The shrub can be grown using seeds, cuttings, and tissue cultured stems. Tissue cultured stevia stems give the highest yield in better quality.