Stevia is an intensely sweet-tasting plant that has been used to sweeten beverages and make tea since the 16th century. The plant is originally native to Paraguay and Brazil but is now also grown in Japan and China. It is used as a non-nutritive sweetener and herbal supplement.
Stevia is perhaps unique among food ingredients because it’s most valued for what it doesn’t do. It doesn’t add calories. Unlike other sugar substitutes, stevia is derived from a plant. There is some question as to its effectiveness as a weight loss aid or as a helpful diet measure for diabetics.
The stevia plant is part of the Asteraceae family, related to the daisy and ragweed. Several stevia species called candyleaf are native to New Mexico, Arizona and Texas. But the prized species, Stevia rebaudiana (Bertoni), grows in Paraguay and Brazil, where people have used leaves from the stevia bush to sweeten food for hundreds of years.