Since the FDA issued the first GRAS (generally recognized as safe) letters on stevia sweeteners with a purity of 95 per cent in December 2008, interest in developing products has been high.
However using the zero calorie sweetener, which comes from the leaves of the stevia plant, is not straightforward. Although 300 times sweeter than sugar, they can come with licorice off-notes, which need to be dealt with in order for the finished product to be acceptable to consumers.
Some stevia suppliers have argued that the bitterness can be avoided with high purity extracts; but for cases where it is a problem at formulation stage, flavor companies have acted on the opportunity to develop ways to deal with the problem with flavors.
Virginia Dare has developed flavors specially for applications that are of high interest, such as beverages and dairy products. Paulette Kerner, director of marketing communications and research, said the company had found the off-notes could be masked by “skilful selection of combinations of flavor ingredients”.
“As products sweetened with stevia began to be developed, we focused our expertise in masking technology on these new applications,” said Kerner.
Other flavor companies offering flavor solutions include Givaudan, Comax Flavors and Symrise.
Some stevia suppliers have also partnered with flavor firms to developed solutions specially geared to their products. For example, Sunwin USA has an alliance with Wild Flavors, and PureCircle with Firmenich.
A small number of consumer products made with stevia have been launched in the US. The newest target market for stevia is France, where an interministerial decree last week made Reb A sweeteners with a purity of over 95 per cent legal, for a two year window ahead of EU-wide approval.