14 MINUTE READ In this post, I’ll be covering the use of stevia rebaudiana (Bertoni) as a natural sweetener in ice cream. I’ll cover the sweetness potency, flavour profile, and the sweetness temporal profile of stevioside and rebaudioside A, the two main compounds providing sweetness in stevia. I’ll also cover the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI), metabolism, stevia and diabetes, health concerns, and sucrose and stevia blends in ice cream.
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1. WHAT IS STEVIA?
Stevia rebaudiana (Bertoni) is a sweet herb native to Paraguay and Brazil (Carakostas et al., 2011). Studies have shown that stevia has been used since ancient times for various purposes throughout the world: the Guarani tribes of Paraguay and Brazil used stevia as a sweetener in yerba mate and medicinal teas for treating heartburn and other ailments (Brandle & Telmer, 2007).
The leaves of stevia are known to contain at least 35 different zero-calorie sweetening compounds (Ceunen & Geuns, 2013) called steviol glycosides (SGs), namely stevioside, rebaudioside A, B, C, D, and E, dulcoside and steviol biosides. Stevioside and rebaudioside A are believed to be the main compounds providing the sweetening properties in stevia (Lemus-Mondaca et al., 2012).
2. STEVIOSIDE AND REBAUDIOSIDE A
2.1. SWEETNESS POTENCY
Stevioside is said to be 250-300 times sweeter than sucrose (Duke & deCellier, 1993; Lester, 1999), whilst rebaudioside A has a sweetening potency even higher than stevioside, about 250-450 times sweeter than sucrose (Barriocanal et al., 2008). Rebaudioside A is said to be superior in terms of both sweetness and quality of taste (DuBois, 2000; Fry, 2012).
In contrast to sucrose, all high-intensity sweeteners become less effective at sweetening the higher their concentration. Stevioside and Rebaudioside A reach a maximum sweetness intensity (a plateau where the sweetness intensity remains constant) at 9.9% and 10% sucrose equivalence respectively (DuBois et al., 1991). Sucrose equivalency (SE) is the standardised sweetness intensity scale established in sweetener research with sucrose as the reference. An x% SE is equivalent in sweetness to an x% sucrose water solution (Stargel et al., 2001).
2.2. FLAVOUR PROFILE
The sweet tastes of stevioside and rebaudioside A are accompanied by bitter and liquorice-like ‘off’ tastes that are more notable for stevioside than rebaudioside A. In rebaudioside A, these ‘off’ tastes are generally only apparent at relatively high concentrations and are not significant at lower levels (Prakash et al., 2008). A trained descriptive panel evaluated a high-purity rebaudioside A (Young & Wilkens, 2007a). At low to medium SE levels (SE less than 6%), bitter and black liquorice attributes were low/negligible, whilst at higher SE levels (SE higher than 6%), they became notable.
Because stevioside is only half as sweet as the same concentration of rebaudioside A, it is at a disadvantage in that twice as much is required to reach the same sweetness intensity as a given concentration of rebaudioside A. Higher concentrations of stevioside are, however, more likely to be accompanied by bitter ‘off’ tastes.
2.3. SWEETNESS TEMPORAL PROFILE
Sweetness temporal profiles demonstrate changes in the perception of sweetness over time. Most high-potency sweeteners, in contrast to sucrose, display a prolonged Extinction Time (ET) (Prakash et al., 2008), which means that the sweet sensation in the mouth is perceived for longer. Young & Wilkens (2007b) found that the ET of a high-purity rebaudioside A was significantly longer than that of sucrose.
3. ACCEPTABLE DAILY INTAKE
The Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) have established an Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) for steviol glycosides (expressed as steviol equivalents) of 4 mg/kg body weight per day (FAO, 2010). This ADI takes into account a no-observed-adverse-effect-level (NOAEL) and applies a 100-fold safety uncertainty factor extrapolated from a 2 year carcinogenicity study on rats consuming 2.5% stevioside in the diet, equating to 967 mg stevioside/kg body weight per day or 388 mg steviol equivalents per kg body weight per day (Xili et al., 1992).
Consumption studies demonstrate that intact steviol glycosides are poorly absorbed by humans after consumption (Pawar et al., 2013). In vitro (Gardana et al., 2003; Hutapea et al., 1997; Koyama et al., 2003; Purkayastha et al., 2014) and in vivo (Geuns et al., 2007; Geuns et al., 2006; Simonetti et al., 2004; Temme et al., 2004; Wheeler et al., 2008) metabolism studies with stevioside and rebaudiosides A, B, D, and M, suggest that all steviol glycosides are degraded to steviol by intestinal microflora in the colon, where the majority is absorbed across the gut wall and the rest is excreted in the faeces. To aid excretion from the body, absorbed steviol is rapidly transformed to steviol glucuronide in the liver, which is then excreted in urine (Geuns et al., 2006; Brusick, 2008).
5. STEVIA AND DIABETES
Steviol glycosides have been found to have beneficial effects on blood glucose and insulin levels in human studies, suggesting that they may serve a potential role in the treatment of type 2 diabetes. Gregersen et al. (2004) reported that there was a significant reduction (an average of 18%) in postprandial glucose levels in Type II diabetic patients given test meals supplemented with stevioside. Anton et al. (2010) found that stevia reduced postprandial blood glucose and insulin levels in humans and, more recently, Ritu & Nandini (2016) found that subjects suffering from type 2 diabetes mellitus who were given stevia leaf powder had significantly lowered fasting and post-prandial blood glucose levels on completion of 60 days.
6. HEALTH CONCERNS
6.1. POTENTIAL GENOTOXICITY
Steviol glycosides have been subjected to extensive genetic testing. Although negative genotoxicity results have been reported in the majority of studies, steviol has induced positive genotoxicity results in some studies (Pezzuto et al., 1985, 1986; Matsui et al., 1989, 1996a,b; Suttajit et al., 1993 Terai et al., 2002; Nunes et al., 2007). Readers are referred to Brusick (2008) and to Urban et al. (2012, 2015) for a comprehensive evaluation of these studies.
6.2. EFFECTS ON REPRODUCTION
Several animal studies have suggested that steviol glycosides may have adverse effects on the male and female reproductive system. Studies have reported anti-fertilitiy effects in female rats, as well as decreases in the weights of the testes, seminal vesicle, and cauda epididymides, and a reduction in spermatozoa concentration, in male rats, administered stevia extracts (Planas & Kucacute, 1968; Oliveira-Filho et al., 1989; Melis, 1999).
Planas & Kucacute (1968) investigated the potential of aqueous stevia extract to act as a contraceptive in female rats. They reported that female rats of proven fertility fed a 5% aqueous extract of stevia displayed reduced fertility and that fertility continued to decrease for at least 50-60 days after intake was stopped. Similar results were reported by Bakal & O’brien (1986) for female rats and by Portella Nunes & Pereira (1988) for female mice. In the latter study, fertility was reduced by 20% and 40% respectively, by treatment with 1% and 5% tea infusions prepared from stevia leaves, during the 12-day period before mating. The 1% infusion when given during the mating period reduced the number of uterine implants but had no effect if given before mating began.
In contrast, two reports have appeared in which no anti-fertility effects were seen in male rats fed stevia leaf extracts (Sincholle & Marcorelles, 1989; Oliverira-Filho et al., 1989). Similarly, Kinghorn et al. (1991) found that stevioside administered to male and female rats at concentrations of up to 3% of the diet produced no abnormal responses in mating performance or fertility, and Curry et al. (2008) found no treatment-related effects of rebausioside A on mating performance, fertility, gestation, and estrous cycle in rats.
In a recent study, Shannon et al. (2016) argued that steviol glycosides and steviol may have the potential to act as a hormone disrupting chemical. The researchers found that steviol can antagonise the progesterone nuclear receptor transcriptional activity and increase progesterone production. Progesterone is a steroid hormone that plays a major role in female reproductive health such maintaining pregnancy, regulating the monthly menstrual cycle and preparing the body for conception (Healy, 1990). The researchers also found that steviol induced an agonistic response on Catsper, the progesterone receptor of sperm cells.
6.3. HEALTH SUMMARY
The Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) reviewed steviol glycoside safety on several occasions and concluded that stevioside and rebaudioside A were not genotoxic (JECFA, 2005). Similar conclusions that steviol glycosides are safe at the proposed levels of consumption have been announced by the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA, 2010), Australia-New Food Safety Authority (ANZFSA, 2008) and others (Carakostas et al., 2012).
7. SUCROSE AND STEVIA BLENDS IN ICE CREAM
Because of the low maximum sweetness intensity, the ‘off’ tastes at high concentrations, and prolonged extinction times, stevioside and rebaudiside A are principally used in blends with caloric (e.g. sucrose, high fructose starch syrup, fructose, glucose, etc.) and non-caloric sweeteners (e.g. erythritol, mogrol, glycosides, etc.) (DuBois, 2000).
Alizadeh et al. (2014) investigated whether a low calorie and low glycemic index (GI) ice cream could be developed using a mixture of sucrose (su) and stevia (St). Varying proportions of stevia (steviol glycoside, white powder, 240 times sweeter than cane sugar) and sucrose were added to make the following five different ice cream formulations: formulation A. 18.6g (su); formulation B. 13.95g (su) and 20 mg (St); formulation C. 9.3g (su) and 40mg (St); formulation D. 4.64g (su) and 70mg (St) and formulation E. 110 mg (St) without any sugar.
The researchers found that the suitability of taste, texture, and mean liking was relatively higher in formulation C, as compared to the other ice creams, and formulation E had the lowest texture, taste, and total mean liking scores. These results suggest that substituting half of the sucrose in an ice cream mix with 0.04g stevia produces ice cream with similar texture and taste to a sucrose only formulation. Using stevia as the sole sweetener is, however, unlikely to produce ice cream with a favourable taste and texture.
Stevioside and rebaudioside A are believed to be the main compounds providing the sweetening properties in stevia. Rebaudioside A has a sweetening potency higher than stevioside and is said to be superior in terms of both sweetness and quality of taste.
Because of the low maximum sweetness intensity, the ‘off’ tastes at high concentrations, and the prolonged extinction times, stevioside and rebaudiside A are unlikely to be used as the sole sweetener in ice cream. Instead, their principal use is in blends with caloric (e.g. sucrose, high fructose starch syrup, fructose, glucose, etc.) and non-caloric sweeteners (e.g. erythritol, mogrol, glycosides, etc.). Substituting half of the sucrose in ice cream with 0.04g stevia has been shown to produce ice cream with similar texture and taste to a sucrose only formulation.
Steviol glycosides have been found to have beneficial effects on blood glucose and insulin levels, suggesting they may serve a potential role in the treatment of type 2 diabetes. Health concerns associated with stevia consumption include genotoxicity, as well as adverse effects on the male and female reproductive system.
In the United States, whole-leaf stevia or crude extracts are currently not permitted for use as food additives. Steviol glycosides (including Rebaudioside A, Stevioside, Rebaudioside D, and steviol glycoside mixture preparations with Rbaudioside A and/or Stevioside being the predominant components) of high purity (95% minimum purity) have, however, been given GRAS (Generally Recognised as Safe) Notices (USFDA, 2012).
I hope this post helps. I will be testing stevia in ice cream and will update this post with my results. I’d love your feedback on how this post can be improved so please do get in touch and say hi! All the best, Ruben 🙂
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