How to purchase stevia extract

You want to start using stevia and take your sugar reduction to the next level? Congratulations on a good choice! But before you take action, there are some things you should be aware of. Purchasing stevia is easy. But purchasing stevia that is right for you, your product and your needs is another matter. In this article, you’ll get the basics.

18 June 2020 •

Stevia extract is extract­ed from the ste­via plant that is cul­ti­vat­ed in many parts of the world, and there are many dif­fer­ent play­ers in the area. Finding the right ste­via extract is not easy – you have many choic­es to make. In addi­tion, the com­po­si­tion of ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides varies wide­ly between dif­fer­ent ste­via extracts, but also between two extracts that have an equal pro­por­tion of a spec­i­fied ste­vi­ol gly­co­side. And who should you buy from? We make an effort to take a clos­er look at all of this in this article.

A large family

Let’s start with the plant ste­via. There are 240 species of ste­via, but only one con­tains the sweet sub­stances that are extract­ed. It’s called Stevia rebau­di­ana and orig­i­nates from the trop­i­cal and sub­trop­i­cal parts of South America. It is par­tic­u­lar­ly asso­ci­at­ed with Paraguay.

It’s impor­tant to grasp that you are not buy­ing ste­via but the extract that can be obtained from ste­via. Stevia leaves are only allowed in tea, herbal teas and fruit fusions. However, the sweet sub­stances in ste­via leaves - ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides - can be extract­ed and used in a wide range of foods. Stevia extract is a white pow­der con­sist­ing almost exclu­sive­ly of the 11 ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides approved in the EU.

Choosing continent and country

South America has an advan­ta­geous cli­mate for large-scale ste­via pro­duc­tion. But there are oth­er options as well. Stevia is now grown in Southeast Asia, Africa and the USA. Yes, even in Europe there are ste­via cul­ti­va­tion. But the coun­try most often asso­ci­at­ed with ste­via is China. The rea­son for this is that the giant in the east accounts for 80 per cent of the world’s ste­via production.

Different concentrations

A com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent area, but just as impor­tant is to find out what kind of ste­via extracts to choose. Eleven dif­fer­ent ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides are found in today’s ste­via extract and some of them (for exam­ple, Reb A, Reb M and Reb D) make up the major­i­ty of the con­tent (from about 50 to 98 per cent concentration).

The fact is that ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides with a hun­dred per cent puri­ty are not avail­able on the com­mer­cial mar­ket. The var­i­ous ste­via extracts con­sist of a mix­ture of ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides, where only one of them is present in a giv­en pro­por­tion. For exam­ple, our ste­via extracts con­tain 50, 60, 80, 95, 97 or 98 per cent Reb A, Reb M, Reb C or Reb D while the rest is oth­er ste­vi­ol glycosides.

If a spec­i­fied pro­por­tion of a ste­via extract is a spe­cif­ic ste­vi­ol gly­co­side, then what makes the remain­ing con­tent? Mostly ste­vio­side, as it is the most com­mon ste­vi­ol gly­co­side in ste­via leaves, but also oth­er ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides. There are also some min­er­als and oth­er left­overs from the plant.

What con­cen­tra­tion should you choose? There is no obvi­ous answer to that ques­tion. It depends on what type of food and what flavour pro­file you want to achieve. It has been found that when the con­cen­tra­tion is low­er and sev­er­al dif­fer­ent ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides are allowed to meet, syn­er­gy effects arise which improve the taste. In the arti­cle A coun­ter­in­tu­itive fact about ste­via extract, you can read about an inter­est­ing exper­i­ment regard­ing yoghurt and stevia.

Which one should you choose?

Extracts con­tain­ing main­ly Reb A are among the most wide­ly used. It is also rel­a­tive­ly cheap. Recently, new alter­na­tives have emerged such as Reb D and Reb M. These are avail­able in sig­nif­i­cant­ly small­er quan­ti­ties in ste­via leaves com­pared to Reb A. They are there­fore more expen­sive than Reb A. But they are also more sug­ar-like and lack the liquorice-like after­taste found in Reb A, thus, no oth­er ingre­di­ents are need­ed to mask the off-taste.

If you ignore the high­er price of Reb D and Reb M it sounds like a sim­ple choice, right? Why choose Reb A if there are oth­er ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides that taste bet­ter and are more rem­i­nis­cent of sugar?

It’s not that sim­ple. The choice of ste­vi­ol gly­co­side depends on many fac­tors. For exam­ple, what foods you should use it in, price seg­ment, oth­er pos­si­ble ingre­di­ents and taste expe­ri­ence require­ments. In gen­er­al, one could argue that Reb M fits well in prod­ucts with a sim­ple taste pro­file where you want big and tangy sweet­ness with­out any side-tastes, for exam­ple in sweets.

In foods with a more com­plex taste pro­file, such as choco­late prod­ucts, the slight­ly bit­ter Reb A can team up with cocoa that is also bit­ter. In the arti­cle How to choose between Reb A and Reb M, you can read more about choos­ing ste­vi­ol glycosides.

Not indisputable

Which main ste­vi­ol gly­co­side, mix­ture and con­cen­tra­tion that you should choose is not by far indisputable.

To facil­i­tate this deci­sion-mak­ing process, you need a work­ing method where you sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly inves­ti­gate which ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides are suit­able for your par­tic­u­lar food. This means that you will prob­a­bly have to do exten­sive tests to meet your spe­cif­ic require­ments for sweet­ness, taste and mouth­feel.

In short – you need to find out what type of ste­via extract is right for your needs. Should it be one with 50 per cent Reb A or one with 98 per cent Reb M, or some­thing else? And how does the extract work with oth­er ingre­di­ents in the food?

Varying Content

There is great vari­a­tion between ste­via extracts with the same con­cen­tra­tion of the same ste­vi­ol gly­co­side. For exam­ple, a ste­via extract with 60 per cent Reb A from one sup­pli­er can have a dis­tinct­ly bit­ter taste and clear liquorice-like after­taste, while from anoth­er sup­pli­er it has a much more pleas­ant and more sug­ary sweetness.

Obviously, there is no dif­fer­ence between Reb A from one sup­pli­er to anoth­er. It is the same sweet sub­stance regard­less of where the plant is grown or how it has been extract­ed. It is the remain­ing part – the 40 per cent that is not Reb A – that sep­a­rate dif­fer­ent ste­via extract from each other.

For each frac­tion Reb A that is extract­ed, you get about twice the frac­tion of ste­vio­side, which is more bit­ter and has a pro­nounced taste of liquorice that sets it apart from Reb A. You also get a frac­tion con­tain­ing residues – oth­er ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides and some tan­nins, flavonoids, min­er­als and oth­er sub­stances from the leaves.

The 40 per cent that is not Reb A is thus a mix­ture of the two frac­tions with ste­vio­side and the residues. It is part­ly the pro­por­tions between these and part­ly the com­po­si­tion of the residues that make the dif­fer­ence between two extracts with 60 per cent Reb A.

Buying stevia extract

If you have decent knowl­edge and expe­ri­ence, the right net­work and are able to play it cool, you can source ste­via extract direct­ly from man­u­fac­tur­ers. But for them want­i­ng to do busi­ness with you, you may have to buy large quan­ti­ties. And if you have such great needs, the oppo­site prob­lem could arise; the man­u­fac­tur­er may not be able to (or don’t want to) sus­tain­ably deliv­er the vol­umes you need. These are exam­ples of prob­lems you have to deal with if you are going to buy direct­ly from manufacturers.

Another prob­lem is qual­i­ty. How should you ensure that the ste­via extract you get is con­sis­tent in qual­i­ty over time? And how should you arrange and mon­i­tor food safe­ty from man­u­fac­tur­ing to fin­ished prod­uct? On top of this, you have to man­age the han­dling of freight, cus­toms and the like.

It can be tempt­ing to skip the mid­dle­men – exporters, importers and dis­trib­u­tors – to avoid pay­ing their orders. And, by all means, if your com­pa­ny has the resources to solve any prob­lem that may arise, you may go ahead. But don’t mis­take the mid­dle­men for greedy types who just cut between. They add great val­ue by solv­ing prob­lems for you.

For exam­ple, an importer or dis­trib­u­tor can ensure equal access to ste­via extracts of equal qual­i­ty, by pur­chase ste­via extracts from many dif­fer­ent sources. They can also ensure that the entire chain from farm to prod­uct meets all reg­u­la­to­ry requirements.

A Helping Hand

If you would like tips on dis­trib­u­tors sell­ing our ste­via extracts, please con­tact us. We have dis­trib­u­tors in most EU countries.

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