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Stevia: The Genus Stevia

Stevia: The Genus Stevia. A. Douglas Kinghorn (ed). New York, NY: Taylor & Francis; 2002. Hardcover; 211 pages. ISBN 0-415-26830-3. $129.95. Available in ABC’s online store.

Editor’s note: Given all of the attention that stevia (Stevia rebaudiana, Asteraceae) has received recently in the news, we thought it might be constructive to remind readers of the availability of this book (which was not reviewed previously), even though it was published in 2002.

This book, which constitutes volume 19 of the “Medicinal and Aromatic Plants— Industrial Profiles” series from Taylor & Francis, is highly relevant to today’s burgeoning stevia industry. The book offers an in-depth examination of this increasingly popular herb, originally from South America and now cultivated in large quantities in China for use as a non-caloric sweetening agent.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the importation of stevia for use in herbal teas and other herbal products in 1990, purportedly based on concerns that the safety of stevia had not been adequately documented for use in foods. FDA then lifted the ban in 1995 for stevia sold as a dietary supplement. In the spring of 2008, several companies selfaffirmed GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status of their stevia extracts of 95% steviol glycosides and started selling steviasweetened foods and dry stevia extracts as stand-alone food sweeteners. In December 2008, the FDA accepted the self-affirmations of GRAS status of stevia extracts that had been submitted through the partnerships of Cargill-Coca Cola and Pepsi-Merisant. Stevia sweeteners and stevia-sweetened products are now increasingly appearing in mainstream food stores, and numerous other ingredient suppliers are offering various types of extracts.

The book’s first chapter provides an excellent and panoramic overview of stevia, written by Professor A. Douglas Kinghorn, PhD, DSc, the book’s editor, and a world-renowned expert on plant-derived sweeteners (now Jack L. Beal Professor and Chair in the Division of Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacognosy at the College of Pharmacy at Ohio State University). Two chapters by Prof. D. Doel Soejarto, of the University of Illinois at Chicago, provide an authoritative review of the botany and ethnobotany of this plant, used by South American Indians for its sweet properties. The ethnobotany chapter is based on field work conducted by Soejarto in Paraguay in the early 1980s.

Other chapters contain information on the phytochemistry of stevia, both the sweet and non-sweet constituents, and methods to synthesize steviol compounds, as well as methods to improve the taste of the sweet principles of stevia. Ryan Huxtable’s chapter on the pharmacology and toxicology of compounds such as steviol, stevioside, and rebaudioside A are still relevant, although additional data have been published since its writing that further support the general safety of the herb and its extracts. The book also has a chapter on the cultivation and use of stevia in other countries such as Japan and Korea, where stevia extracts and derivatives have been widely accepted as a food ingredient for several decades.

Despite the relatively hefty price for such a relatively short volume, this highly informative and authoritative book is a must-have for anyone in the stevia industry—producers, marketers, manufacturers, et al.—as well as consultants, toxicologists, and others involved with this new mainstay in the world’s food supply.

—Mark Blumenthal