What is stevia?
Stevia rebaudiana is a South American plant of the Asteraceae family, which also includes sunflowers and chrysanthemums. Native to Paraguay, stevia has traditionally been used to sweeten beverages and make tea. The term "stevia" refers to the entire plant and its components, only some of which are sweet.
While the word "stevia" refers to the entire plant, for the purposes of this article, the term "stevia" will be used interchangeably to also refer to "steviol glycosides" - the sweet components isolated and purified from the stevia leaves. The plant is cultivated as a commercial crop in Japan, China, Kenya, Vietnam, India, Argentina, Colombia, Thailand, Paraguay, and Brazil. Currently, China is the leading exporter of stevia products.
Stevia provides an important role in biodiversity due to how little land is required to grow it, allowing farmers to diversify their crops. Unlike commodity crops, stevia is grown on smaller plots of land and provides supplemental income to more commonplace crops.