Monday, October 1, 2012

How to Make Liquid Stevia

So - I've talked about being low carb since February of this year.  I've also talked about my thoughts on raising as much of my own food as possible.  One of the (minor) challenges a low-carber faces is choosing which alternative sweetener to use.  Because, let's face it, just saying you will never have a glass of sweet tea again in your life might just turn a few of us to the dark side.  Or a cappuccino.  Or ice cream.  Or pie.  Yikes!  I had better change this train of thought!

Wait!  I can have all of those things!  Frequently! Without guilt! Phew! That was a close one!  All I have to do is sweeten it correctly.  There are a multitude of choices in artificial sweeteners on the market - and just as many dire predictions of death and gloom if you use them.  As stated before, I'm not much of a doom and gloom kind of gal, but I did notice that my weight loss stalled when I allowed sugar alcohols (as in sugar-free chocolate) in my diet.  I also noticed a (very) slight uptick when I use the packaged granular sugar substitutes. Then I found out that the extra chemicals included to keep the packets fluffy contain carbs.  No fair!

Enter Stevia.  This is a South American herb that is used as the basis for the newer sweeteners like Truvia.  It has been used extensively in Japan for decades.  Our dear FDA has now seen fit to allow it in the U.S.(fellow science nerds can take a look at a pretty good article here). You can pick up drops at your local vitamin store to the tune of $15 for 2 ounces.  I picked some up and was pleased when one bottle lasted 5 months using is every morning in my coffee and fairly frequently in my iced tea.  5 drops were plenty for my coffee and 6 plenty for a big glass of tea.  Go ahead and get some so you can see if you like the taste (it was no challenge for me).

The real challenge is the price.  I am not going to put $10 worth of drops in an ice cream recipe I've never tried!

My research led me to growing my own stevia and making my own drops this year.  I grew 3 plants over 3 feet tall in my straw bales and 2 more in a regular garden bed.  I will need to protect them this winter, because they are not cold hardy, or of course I can start from scratch next year as well.  Here's the steps I used and the results (including the challenges!).

Step 1:
Cut down stevia shoots and slide the stems backwards down your fingers to pop off the leaves.
Step 2:
Wash them in a salad spinner

You can see that I have 2 different size leaves here.  I purchased the small-leafed variety as a transplant and grew the larger-leafed ones from seed.  Both did well, so don't worry about which kind you find.

Step 3:
Stevia leaves immediately after being covered with vodka
Take the washed leaves and smash them around a bit with scissors or your hands.  Place them in a large non-reactive bowl and cover with vodka.  Cover with a plate or saucer to keep the leaves submerged and leave them out on the counter overnight.  The next day you will have a green liquid in your bowl.
Stevia next day after soaking all night in vodka 
Step 4:
This is where things got a little out of hand for The Maven.  Multiple web sites had instructed to carefully heat the strained liquid without boiling in order to remove the alcohol.  I strained the mixture by placing a coffee filter in a large funnel and carefully heated my green liquid.  I dutifully cooled it down and tried it the next morning. HMMM... I'm not used to vodka in my morning coffee!  I promise - not all of the alcohol was gone.  

Step 4 (plan B):
I put the liquid back into my soup pot and slowly heated it again.  All the while I dutifully watched to make sure it did not boil (as multiple sites said that would make it bitter) - of course, I messed it up and let it boil.  Come on - really - would you have been able to keep something at about 180 for 30 minutes?
Dutifully cooled it again - no bitterness - but also not very sweet!  It took a tablespoon or more to sweeten my tea!
Step 4 (plan C):
Okay - time to ignore the instructions.  I happen to have a cute little slow cooker that is used to keep dips warm.  I filled it with my green liquid, cocked the lid a little to allow evaporation and left that sucker on until the stevia extract reduced by half.

  Tada!  Delicious drops at a fraction of the cost!  Now I can work on an ice cream recipe and not feel guilty about using an ounce or more.  I'm working on that ice cream recipe tomorrow.  Guess you know what that means - there's a whole lot more! 

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