First there were the little pink packets, then the little blue ones—fixtures at cafés, in pantries, and next to the sugar cubes for decades. When Splenda came along in 1999, it rocked the artificial sweetener landscape: made from sugar, with a taste allegedly closer to sugar, and very stable under heat, it quickly became the best-selling sugar alternative in the United States.
But over the last year, more and more no-cal sweeteners have hit the market—many taking a cue from Splenda and jumping on the “all-natural” bandwagon. A number of these products derive from stevia, a plant native to South America with leaves whose extracts produce a compound hundreds of times sweeter than sugar. While stevia has been available in health-food stores for years, it has only just been approved as a food additive, and manufacturers are rushing it to the shelves.
, produced by Coca-Cola and Cargill, is the highest-profile addition to the sweetener repertoire. Made primarily from rebiana, the ingredient distilled from stevia, Truvia comes in conventionally-sized white packets; the grains resemble sugar but are larger and lighter. And with a taste less overpowering than other sweeteners, many find it a more pleasant alternative to Sweet’N Low or Equal.
The makers of Sugar in the Raw have introduced their own alternative, Stevia in the Raw
—which, containing stevia uncut by other additives, has a cloyingly sweet taste. But Wholesome Sweetener’s
Organic Zero, on the other hand, doesn’t turn to stevia but makes use of erythritol—a sugar alcohol—for a cleaner taste actually closer to sugar.
Of course, however "natural" these products are, none precisely mimic the taste, mouthfeel, or chemical composition of sugar. And whether any of these will appear in Starbucks soon is anyone’s guess. But those looking for an organically derived non-sugar alternative now have much more to choose from.