Stevia, a sweetener from the leaf extract of the herb Stevia rebaudiana, has been an herbal supplement in the United States and artificial sweetener in Asia for decades, and a sweetener in South America for centuries.
Native to Paraguay, the Food and Drug Administration deemed stevia unsafe as a food additive in 1991, but recent research paints a different picture.
Both the Coca-Cola company and PepsiCo Inc are readying juice beverages sweetened with stevia for market, but might or might not wait for FDA approval. As long as stevia is indicated as an unapproved herbal supplement, it can legally be used.
There is speculation that Coca-Cola may go forward with their new Odwalla line prior to FDA approval, which according to scientists is almost certain.
The no-observed-adverse-effect level (NOAEL) for the taste-improving compound found in stevia (rebaudioside A), and left in new preparations to remove the licorice aftertaste of steviol, is 50,000 ppm in tested rats – implicating safety in humans.
There is also Truvia, a tabletop version of stevia from Cargill as an artificial sweetener.
The benefit of stevia is its lack of calories and that it doesn’t produce increased blood glucose levels, making it a perfect sweetener for diabetics. When these products hit the shelves is just a matter of time, whether this will be before or after FDA approval may affect public perception of both the companies and the agency.