Stevia In The Raw
I was at my grocery store this afternoon, picking up a few things, when I noticed a new package with the other sweeteners in the baking supplies aisle. It was Stevia In The Raw, from the same people who have, for all these years, produced Sugar In The Raw. I won't use Sugar In The Raw -- see the part about "it's sugar." I don't care how "raw" it is (which it ain't), sugar is sugar, and it's all hard on my blood sugar. But this looked new, so I picked up the bag.
Turns out it's the same bulking agent as is used in Splenda Granular -- maltodextrin -- mixed with stevia extract instead of sucralose. Like Splenda Granular, Stevia In The Raw is formulated so that the blend roughly equals sugar in sweetness, and can be measured the same. Since one of the big difficulties with using straight stevia extract is that it's way, way too sweet to use easily, leaving the cook to figure out what quantities to substitute for sugar in recipes, this is -- at least from the recipe adaptation standpoint -- a step in the right direction.
However, it must not be overlooked that maltodextrin is sugar. Refined sugar. Indeed, it is pretty much the same thing as glucose. The label says "under 0.5 grams of carbohydrate per teaspoon." Since sugar is 4 grams of carb per teaspoon, that's a big improvement, less than 1/8th of the carb count of sugar. Still, don't fool yourself that this stuff is carb-free. I'll count it like granular Splenda -- 24 g per cup. Not terribly high, but enough to pay attention to.
What about flavor? I tried a pinch of the stuff straight, and I found it harsh, with the same bitter zing I always have disliked in straight stevia extract. In a batch of sugar-free ketchup, however, it tasted fine. Since I just bought the stuff today, further experimentation will have to wait, but I'm guessing, from that taste of the straight product, that it will work better in some things than in others, and that, in particular, it will be better in recipes where the concentration is not too strong.
Another thing to remember: Like granular Splenda, Stevia In The Raw will give neither the bulk nor the volume of sugar. Your recipes will be smaller in volume -- the package says to use baking pans 25% smaller than usual -- and won't have the moistness, gooiness, or browning that sugar brings. Like Splenda granular (or Splenda in the packets, or liquid sucralose, for that matter), Stevia in the Raw will best be used in applications where, in the original high-carb recipe, sugar is not the main determinant of texture.
I'm not making many desserts currently -- I'm recovering from recipe development, trying to knock off a few pounds -- but as I try this stuff, I'll let you know how it works.
One more point: I am still unconvinced that stevia is automatically superior to sucralose because it is natural. I have repeated it till I am blue in the face (or in the keyboarding hands): Natural is no guarantee of safety. Many of the most toxic substances in the world are 100% natural. I do not mean to suggest that stevia is dangerous. I'm just immune to the argument that stevia is particularly wonderful because "It's natural!" However, if you do prefer a natural sweetener, or are in some way sensitive to sucralose, this one seems worth a try.