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Stevia products are made from the glycoside extracts from the leaf of the Stevia rebaudiana herb, a plant found in South and Central America. The stevia leaf glycosides are natural sweeteners and are used as sugar substitutes or sugar alternatives to add calorie-free flavor to a variety of food and beverage products. These include jams, jellies, ice creams, yogurts, confectioneries, baked products, pickles, squashes, soft drinks and chewing gum. Many well-known beverage manufacturers use stevia instead of an artificial sweetener; stevia is completely safe for consumption, and is approved by the Food and Drug Administration in the United States.
Aside from being used as an ingredient in an assorted commercial foods and drinks, stevia is also available in sachets of white powder, in tablet form, and as cut or whole leaves. Consumers can then easily use it in their home food preparations. It can be added to a hot cup of tea or coffee, to an iced lemonade, or used in a cake. It is also possible to use stevia products to flavor vegetable dishes as well as fish and meat dishes.
The popularity of stevia products lies in the fact that, unlike sugar-based products, they do not pile on the calories. Stevia food products are not just healthier, they are several hundred times sweeter than those made with regular cane sugar; the taste is not exactly the same, though. Another factor, particularly relevant to manufacturers, is the non-fermenting and stable character of stevia that boosts its overall shelf-life; stevia products can be shipped and stored in different conditions and over a period of time without going bad.
In addition to having a distinctly sweet flavor, stevia is known for its medicinal and anti-bacterial properties. The presence of this sweetener appears to hamper the growth of many harmful bacteria, and this fact is being utilized in a variety of different ways in the health and hygiene industries. Stevia products include oral health products such as mouthwashes and toothpastes, as well as anti-bacterial soaps and anti-dandruff shampoos. The concentrated liquid form of stevia has been found to be pretty effective in treating skin injuries and many skin-related problems; regular application of the concentrated liquid appears to have an ameliorating effect on skin conditions like acne, dermatitis and eczema. As it softens and tightens the skin, stevia has also been used to prepare beauty masks, anti-aging lotions and other beauty products.
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