Sweet-leaved herb stevia gaining presence in city

The city has caught up with stevia fever that has been raging in the country's research centres in the past few years, thanks to two woman scientists from the city. Stevia, a sweet-leaved herb from south America, is a natural alternative for sugar and is consistently replacing artificial sweeteners in international markets.

Sangeeta Kulkarni from Jnana Prabodhini and Manjusha Savardekar from Bhide Foundation are the two scientist who are doing extraction and product development of the sweetening element in stevia leaves. "I had sent this proposal to Department of Science and Technology under Disha scheme which got selected. DST funded the project for last two years. After completing that project, Manjusha joined my research and we continue to do prototype development that can be used in the market," Kulkarni said.

"Stevia leaf extract is 300 times sweeter than normal sugar. Stevia is nutrient rich, containing substantial amount of protein, magnesium etc. Stevia can also be used as a house hold sweetener in preparation of sweets," Savardekar said.

Although approved in countries such as America, Japan, Brazil, Argentina etc, India is yet to open its door to stevia. Sugar lobbies and also artificial sugar industry is being touted to be behind the delay in its approval as a food item. At present, a scientific panel in the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is considering whether stevia can be approved as a food item or not. FSSAI had recommended the use of stevia as a natural alternative in carbonated water, soft drink concentrates, chewing gums and table-top sweeteners in September last year. The recommendations are yet to be cleared by an expert panel of FSSAI which can take up to one year for its implementation. Various companies including Coca-Cola had applied for its permission for usage in India.

"The substance has been in use for many years in America without any side effects. Moreover, India was also supporting stevia cultivation for about 10 years before banning it last year. If the recommendations are approved and implemented by FSSAI, then it will definitely be a boon for diabetic and high BP patients," Kulkarni said.

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