Growing Stevia in Israel
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Riva Schertzman
Posted on: June 03, 2004

I live in Israel where it is basically a very sunny desert-like climate most of the year. That’s why, I was wondering if planting Stevia would be successful here.

Yes, stevia does well in Israel. You will need to irrigate, of course, but because stevia produces steviosides in direct proportion to the amount of sunlight it gets, you should get good stevioside levels. Stevia takes the heat well.

Furthermore, i understand that if I do get a crop going, I could use the dry leaves to make a powder. Can you tell me how this works? Does that mean, for instance that I just pulverize the leaves and use it?

There is a market for the raw dried leaf. The leaves can be used in tea blends or powdered for use in food. Consumers, however, prefer to use the extract, either in the powder or liquid forms. This extraction process is key to getting good quality stevia powder or liquid because you have to minimize the bitter steviosides. At least one extraction protocol that I am ware of is protected by patents.

Lastly, I’ve heard that because stevia comes from a "natural source," it is not known to be potentially dangerous as other sweeteners might be. Have you seen any research on this?

Apparently there isn’t anything yet that would convince the Canadian or American regulators on stevia’s safety. Both the Health Canada and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have ruled that stevia cannot be used as an additive in food. This is key to the widespread marketability of stevia extracted products because then stevia can be added to diet drinks, diet foods, etc. It is commonly believed that interests for the sugar industry or for the artificial sweetener industry have lobbied to block the adoption of stevia as a food additive.

There is plenty of indirect evidence that stevia is safe. Stevia has been used safely in Japan since the 1930s and it has been used in South America for generations.

Dr. Jim Brandle, an Agriculture Canada scientist, worked on stevia for a few years. He presented some of his research on growing and breeding of stevia at Richters Third Commercial Herb Growing Conference in 1998. He also discusses briefly the research that has been used to justify stevia’s non-acceptance as an additive in food. The transcripts are available for purchase from Richters. Please see: http://www.richters.com/Web_store/web_store.cgi?product=XB7102.

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