“It is 200 times sweeter than sugar. One kilo of stevia is equivalent to 200kg of sugar."
What aftertaste would you expect from a powdered sugar extract from green leaves? Perhaps bitter, peppery or simply tasteless? Well, not this green powder. It is actually sweet.
Stevia rebaudiana is a plant whose leaves can be ground into a sweet powder, to give an alternative to white sugar.
“It is 200 times sweeter than sugar. The leaves contain a sweet content called steviacide. One kilo of stevia is equivalent to 200kg of sugar,” says Julius Nyanzi, a Bachelor of Science graduate.
As a student at Makerere University, Nyanzi vowed never to seek formal employment upon graduation. He wanted to delve further into plant research, discover and build a brand name: Prof Bio research.
He shared his vision with his grandfather, who offered him about two acres of land in Masanafu, along Hoima road, where he grew an assortment of plants.
Nyanzi looks after different species of green sugar
Nyanzi picked interested in stevia, but pondered how to acquire the exact species he wanted for the sugar substitute. With the help of a friend working in a herbarium in the US, he acquired stevia seedlings.
He wanted to start business by selling ‘green sugar’ from stevia, but had no equipment to crush the leaves. But in his mother’s kitchen, he found the solution.
“I borrowed a mortar and pestle, crushed the leaves and packaged them in 100gm sachets which I sold at sh10,000. I also sold stevia seedlings at sh5,000 and between sh1,500 and sh3,000 to multi purchasers,” says Nyanzi.
He then looked for market, and made a breakthrough when a doctor friend recommended stevia to his patients.
How he makes the powder
Nyanzi uses the plants from his farm and also buys from outgrowers to whom he sells seedlings. He then dries the leaves by air, careful not to expose them to direct sunlight, as the ultra violet and infra-red rays destroy the sweet compound. He then crushes them in an extractor, a machine he bought from the sh3,000,000 savings from selling green sugar.
“But you can use a blender or grinder to achieve this. For a finer powder you can sieve after grinding,” Nyanzi explains.
However, because the green powder may appear like residues in juices, he has developed a clear liquid syrup from the stevia, which leaves no traces in clear juices.
“A drop is equivalent to a tea spoon of white sugar, and 10 drops are equivalent to two table spoons,” Nyanzi explains. “It’s very economical.”
At his shop at Equatorial Mall in the city centre where he sells the sugar and other herbal products, Nyanzi receives over 50 clients a day, including foreign expatriates, asking for the sugar.
Lilian Nakayiki Nyanzi, a nutritionist with Neulife Medical Centre in Bweyogerere, says that as a health benefit, stevia can be used to aid weight loss in clients on prescription by a nutritionist/dietician to replace table sugar, since it has less calories.
“One teaspoon of table sugar is equivalent to four energy calories. The use of stevia in overweight and obese individuals could promote weight loss since it leads to low calorie intake,” Nakayiki explains.
She adds that as a sugar substitute, stevia can be used by diabetic patients, on prescription by a doctor or a dietician/nutritionist, to manage and maintain normal blood glucose levels.
“This is because it does not generally raise blood sugar levels,” Nakayiki notes. What is more, the green sugar does not promote tooth decay, unlike normal cane sugar.
Soft drinks made with stevia
Stevia has already caught the attention of soft drink manufacturers, seeking to process healthier drinks for certain customers. For instance, according to Wikipedia, Coca-Cola Life is the first version of the soft drink to be produced with stevia.
It is a lower calorie version of Coca-Cola, having 27kcal/100mL, containing only 60% of the calories of regular Coca-Cola. Pepsi True also uses Stevia as a sweetener.
According to a 2002 research titled ‘Report for the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation’ by David J Midmore and Andrew H Rank in Australia, stevia rebaudiana has been used for more than 1,500 years by the Guaraní peoples of South America.
The leaves have also been used traditionally for hundreds of years in both Brazil and Paraguay to sweeten local teas and medicines.