Reference standards for stevia, a new natural sweetener

FOOD manufacturers are preparing to exploit a zero-calorie, low-carbohydrate sweetener that has recently gained regulatory approval in the European Union (EU). Steviol glycosides are manufactured from the leaves of Asteraceae, plants of the sunflower family, and are said to be 250-300 times as sweet as standard sugar (sucrose).

Regulations published by the European Commission on 12 November 2011, coming into force on 2 December 2011, permit the use of steviol glycosides as sweeteners across the European Union. The sweeteners, which are marketed under trade names including Rebiana (or Reb A), Truvia, PureVia, and Enliten, must meet specific purity criteria to be permitted in foods such as soft drinks and confectionary.

Quick off the mark with what it says is the largest and most up-to-date range of stevia references is LGC Standards, with analytical standards for the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) method. These standards provide laboratories analysing steviol glycosides in food with a complete kit containing all nine compounds required. To kick off this new product range, LGC is is offering a 10% on stevia orders placed before 1 January 2012.

Scientists in LGC’s Science and Technology division have developed a validated method for the simultaneous determination of sweeteners, both artificial and natural (including steviol glycosides) in food, as part of a project is funded by the UK Food Standards Agency.

Leaves of the Asteraceae family are used as a traditional sweetener in parts of South America, and the plants are sometimes known as ‘sweetleaf’ or ‘sugarleaf’. Extracts have been mooted as an artificial sweetener for processed food and drinks for many years, but adoption was hampered by food safety trials in the 1980s which have since been condemned on procedural grounds. As of now, Stevia is widely approved for use in foodstuffs.

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