The latest no-cal sweetener is heading to market following FDA approval last December for its use in food and drinks. The product is an extract from stevia, a plant native to Central and South America, and both Coca-Cola and PepsiCo (in partnership with Cargill and Merisant, respectively) have introduced FDA-approved stevia-based sweeteners. Coke/Cargill's is Truvia while Pepsi/Merisant's is called PureVia.
Stevia-based sweeteners will now join the other packets of sweetener alternatives on café tables, coffee bar counters, grocers' shelves and foodservice distributor warehouses. Meanwhile, both Coke and Pepsi are also going ahead with plans to launch beverage products using the new sweetener. Pepsi's first stevia-based products are SoBe Lifewater Vitamin Enhanced Water and Trop 50, a lo-cal orange juice product, while Coke's debut stevia product is Sprite Green Naturally Sweetened Soda.
Stevia is seen as a desirable product because it is supposed to be “natural,” being derived directly from a plant used for centuries by natives. Stevia leaves contain a substance that is several hundred times sweeter than sugar but has no calories. In fact, stevia plants are widely available in garden stores for those who want to add them to their herb gardens. Chewing the leaves yields a sweet taste hinting at licorice (it disappears when the leaves are processed).
Stevia sweeteners have been approved for years in many countries outside the U.S. Until the recent action by the FDA, the commercial use of stevia extracts in this country was limited to dietary supplements.