I’ve shied away from stevia in the past, because I hate its aftertaste. But, if you are trying to reduce your sugar intake, it is probably your best option of sweetener to use. So how can we make it more palatable? Today I’ll show you how to make your own stevia extract that doesn’t have a horrid aftertaste.
Years ago, I went to a cooking class on gluten-free and sugar-free baking. It was the worst cooking class I have ever attended – for various reasons! It was a demonstration, and the foods that were prepared were very high in refined carbohydrates (albeit gluten free ones) and fats. But no sugar – they used stevia instead. When we got to taste the dishes – I hated them all! I think that was the first time I had ever had stevia – and that aftertaste just wouldn’t go away.
But today, after some investigation, I am a little more tolerant of stevia. You can reduce or avoid its aftertaste,which makes stevia a good option to help you transition to avoiding sugar and other artificial sweeteners.
Stevia comes from the leaves of a plant called Stevia rebaudiana, and is usually found as a powder or a liquid extract. The active compounds of stevia are steviol glycoside – which has 150 times the sweetness of sugar. Stevia does not affect blood glucose levels, and some studies show it may help improve insulin sensitivity.
What I have found is that the bitter aftertaste is apparent when too high a concentration of stevia is used. Even though recipes with stevia call for just a few drops – if the extract or powder is really concentrated, that can still be too much. So taking it easy is the way to go.
To make stevia powder, collect stevia leaves and dry them, then finely chop them in a blender. The dried leaf powder can be used as is, in certain recipes – but they won’t dissolve, so don’t try them in your coffee!
There are many different ways to prepare an extract, with variables including:
using fresh leaves or dried leaves
I use fresh leaves that I grow myself. They are easy to grow, and the plant regrows every year. The ideal time to harvest the leaves is around August – when the flowers start to appear but before the flowers start dying. If you leave it too late, you are more likely to get bitterness. If you can’t get fresh leaves, you can buy the dried leaves and use them instead.
with alcohol or without alcohol
I use alcohol – vodka – for my extract, because it extracts the sweetness well, and quickly. Any recipe calls for only a few drops of extract, which means there is negligible alcohol in the final product.
duration of the extraction time
I extract for a relatively short period because, again, I find that the sweetness comes through quickly, and there is more likely to be an aftertaste if you leave the leaves in the alcohol for a longer period.
concentrating the extract by heating
I choose not to heat the extract and reduce it as I don’t want it to be highly concentrated. By leaving the extract as it is, the amount you put into a recipe is more controllable. Yes, maybe I’ll use 6 drops instead of 2, but I can taste it as I go along and adjust the sweetness to how I want it.
Obviously, you can adjust these to your own taste. Here’s the recipe. I hope you’ll give it a try. If you live near me and want some leaves – just let me know.H
Homemade stevia extract:
- Fresh stevia leaves
- Unflavored vodka
- (you can vary the amount as you wish – for proportions, see the recipe).
- Wash the stevia leaves
- Roughly tear the leaves into a couple of pieces and place them in a clean jar. I filled the jar with leaves – but they weren’t compressed down.
- Add enough vodka to cover the leaves. For my jar, this was about half full as the liquid compresses the leaves.
- Seal and shake the jar.
- Leave for 8-12 hours. Taste the liquid to see if it is sweet enough.
- Strain the liquid into a bottle and discard the leaves.
- Keep the bottle in the dark, or use a brown colored bottle. Having a dropper helps, as only a few drop are needed to sweeten foods.
If you prefer a more concentrated extract, you can gently simmer the extract to boil off some of the alcohol.
Ruth Baillie is originally from the UK and now lives most of the year in Northern California. She holds two Master’s degrees, one in Personalized Nutrition (distinction), and another in Health Psychology. She is a Registered Nutritional Therapist, Certified Professional Cancer Coach, and Cancer Guide, and has undertaken considerable post-graduate studies in integrative naturopathic oncology. She is the author of “Choices in mind-body medicine for cancer patients in Sonoma County, California” and her research has been published in peer-reviewed journals.