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Flour Girl: Stevia

Brownies made with Stevia Extract in the Raw Cup for Cup turned out crumbly, caky and dry. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

The Food section recently received a bag of Stevia Extract in the Raw Cup for Cup to try. The granulated product is intended to be measured like sugar, which makes it very convenient for those with dietary restrictions. (See the conversion chart.)

I know that zero-calorie Stevia is natural, as it is derived from a plant extract. But I have had reservations about it, mostly because of its overwhelming sweetness. It can be up to 400 times as sweet as sugar. Like some other alternative sweeteners, Stevia Extract in the Raw seems strangely light and fluffy, like artificial snow.

That didn't stop me from baking with it, however.

I made a couple of the recipes included with the promotional bag and found on the Stevia Web site: chocolate chip brownies and peanut butter cookies. They called for half-sugar, half-Stevia and real ingredients such as butter, eggs and unsweetened cocoa powder, which I thought was promising.

The brownies were on the caky side, kinda dry and had a definite aftertaste. Mine, as you can see, didn't look like theirs. The peanut butter cookies had a good texture, yet still featured that odd lingering aftertaste.

I spoke with Abraham Bakal, one of the members of the Stevia Extract in the Raw Cup for Cup research and development team. He explained that the extract is made into a solution and put through a "spray-dry" process that introduces carbon dioxide into the mix to give the product body and a long shelf life. I guess that accounts for the snowy texture.

While the finished product is technically a one-for-one exchange for sugar in cooking recipes, the Stevia site recommends the half-and-half approach for baking. Stevia Extract in the Raw Cup for Cup (quite a name, eh?) lacks heft and has different properties than sugar. Among other things, real sugar creates structure in baked goods.

I think it would require some devoted experimentation in order to use the product in successfully in baking recipes that are family favorites. As long as we keep searching for sweetness without caloric consequences, Bakal and co. will keep finding ways to put new products on supermarket shelves.

-- Leigh Lambert

By Leigh Lambert  |  January 21, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Flour Girl  | Tags: Flour Girl, Leigh Lambert, Stevia, brownies  
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