WASHINGTON Coca-Cola and Cargill recently filed for 24 U.S. patents related to stevia, a South American herb, 300 times sweeter than sucrose, used to sweeten food and beverages, according to published reports.
“Stevia is the world’s only zero-calorie, zero-glycemic, all-natural sweetener,” says Steve May, innovator of Arizona-based SweetLeaf stevia products. “It’s kind of the holy grail of the sweetener business.”
Coca-Cola and Cargill spent more than four years researching stevia before submitting information for patents. Neither company has a timetable for introducing stevia in the United States. According to the Food and Drug Administration, the process for U.S. approval of food additives can take years, with companies submiting information supporting an ingredient’s safety. If and when Coke and Cargill achieve FDA approval, stevia could be sold as a sweetener and used as a food and drink ingredient.
Currently, studies suggest that the Stevia Rebaudiana Bertoni varietal has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties and also fights against diabetes, high blood pressure and tooth decay. The 2-foot shrubby herb is native to Paraguay, where its native people have added the leaves to drinks and bread dough for centuries.
Stevia is available in the United States alongside dietary supplements in various forms, including liquid concentrate, powder and fresh or dried leaves.
The sweet herb also is gaining a chic reputation among the eco-trendy. In August, it was dubbed “Sweetener to the Stars” by Advertising Age magazine because it is popular at celebrity hangouts in Los Angeles and New York City.