Stevia is a sweetener derived from the stevia plant found in parts of South America, Paraguay and Asia. The company Whole Earth Sweetener Co. manufactures a refined part of the stevia plant, known as Rebaudioside A, and packages it as the product Pure Via. Although stevia-derived sweeteners come from a natural source, there is some controversy on whether the final product is as natural as claimed.
In 2008, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved stevia-derived Reb A as a "generally recognized as safe," or GRAS, food additive. This followed years of banning stevia products because of concerns about links to infertility and cancer. Pure Via is the brand name of Reb A used in some diet sodas and marketed as a table top sweetener. Reb A is not stevia itself, but is actually a processed extract of the plant.
Reb A is called the sweetest and most tasty part of the stevia plant from the makers of Pure Via. Whole Earth Sweetener's processing begins with stevia leaves that are first brewed, similar to brewing tea leaves. This extract is refined in a second step with ethanol derived from sugar cane to further separate Reb A. In the final steps, Reb A is isolated and purified. Cellulose powder, dextrose and natural flavors are then added to the final product marketed as Pure Via.
Is it Natural?
Terminology differences make it difficult to say if Pure Via is natural or not. Pure Via, as are other Reb A products, are derived from a natural source -- the stevia plant. Unlike artificial sugars, such as aspartame, it is not synthetically manufactured. The processing of the plant, however, make some question how natural it is despite the claims. While the FDA considers Reb A products highly purified forms of stevia, some consider it a highly refined product.
Properties of Pure Via
Pure Via contains no calories, which makes it attractive to consumers who are weight-conscious. It also is 200 times as sweet as regular sugar. This makes a little of the product go a long way. Pure Via states that 1 packet is equivalent to 2 tsp. of sugar. It is safe for diabetics because it's not a carbohydrate like table sugar. Because of this, it doesn't cause blood sugar to rise.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: What Refined Stevia Preparations Have Been Approved by FDA to Be Used as a Sweetener?; June 2010
- Center for Science in the Public Interest: Learn about Food Additives
- Pure Via: How Pure Via is Made
- Pure Via: Our Products
- MayoClinic.com: Artificial Sweeteners: Understanding These and Other Sugar Substitutes; October 2010