By Bijay Kumar Singh
CAN STEVIA, a natural sweetener procured from the plant’s leaves, replace sugar? Unlikely. But the sugar lobby is uncomfortable, because India, with around 41 million diabetics, and a Rs 400 crore-insulin market, holds immense potential for the new product which is available in India in limited markets. Though much of it is imported, the plant is being cultivated on a small scale in Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, with the government considering large scale cultivation. MOS for Agriculture KV Thomas, in a written statement to TEHELKA, said there were plans to start growing stevia in areas “which have assured irrigation temperatures between 15 and 35 degrees Celsius.”
Apart from being diabeticfriendly, stevia leaves are also calorie-free, and useful in treating digestive disorders. “Extracts of dry stevia leaves are 200 to 300 times sweeter than sugar. It is a zero-calorie sweetener that can replace sugar in every aspect,” says Piyush Mittal, owner of Herboveda, the biggest supplier of stevia products in India. There are more than 200 species of genus Stevia, which is native to South and Central America and Mexico, and has been in use for more than 100 years.