No to natural sweetener

Nature’s zero-calorie sweetener—stevia—kept out of Indian market

By Ankur Paliwal
Last Updated: Monday 17 August 2015

No to natural sweetener

sugar freeIt is a natural sweetener and calorie free. But soft drinks makers don’t use it in beverages. The reason is the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is focussed on artificial sweeteners and does not recognise other sugar substitutes.

The authority’s predilection for artificial sweeteners has left a sour taste in the mouths of those pushing for stevia as an additive in soft drinks and processed food. Stevia shrub (Stevia rebaudiana), a member of the sunflower family native to Paraguay, contains stevioside, which is 300 times sweeter than sugar.

Saurabh Agrawal, head of the India Stevia Association, said he fails to understand why “the government is not approving stevioside, which is natural and safe, and allowing artificial sweeteners despite insufficient data to prove them safe”. He said he has approached the FSSAI many times since 2004. The authority, in May 2009, rejected the request for approving stevioside. It later said a committee would look into the matter.

FSSAI officials offered a facile explanation for not permitting stevioside. “There is no mention of herbal sweeteners in the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act of 1954,” said Dhir Singh, assistant director general of FSSAI. Artificial sweeteners are notified in the act, he said. The authority notified a blend of acesulfame potassium and sucralose in soft drinks in August.

Market potential

India being the diabetes capital of the world, demand for low-calorie sweeteners is high. An estimated 10 to 20 per cent people in India have diabetes; the market for low-calorie sweeteners is at least 25 per cent if one combines the obese and weight conscious consumers with diabetics.

imageUnlike FSSAI, other depart ments are interested in using stevia’s potential. The National Medicinal Plant Board (NMPB) gives 20 per cent subsidy to farmers who cultivate it. Stevia can be harvested three to four times a year, said Bala Prasad, CEO of NMPB.

Farmers can earn Rs 70-Rs 120 per kg of stevia leaves and it is exported at Rs 200- Rs 250 a kg. Stevia is cultivated in over 1,800 hectares (ha) in different states under NMPB schemes. Prasad has constituted a committee of experts to take up stevia’s cause with FSSAI.

Shivraj Bhonsle, director of Sun Fruits Ltd, a company that cultivates stevia commercially, said the sweetener can play an important role in all products that need sucrose—food, beverage, agriculture, medicine, animal feed and skin care products.

At present, stevia accounts for just one per cent of the global sugar-substitute market, though its value in the US market is expected to grow to $2,000 million by end of 2011, from $21 million in 2008, according to a prediction by research group Mintel. The Indian market for sweeteners can shift towards stevia if it gets a boost from the government, said Agrawal. Stevia is cheaper than sugar. The average sugar yield from a 0.4 ha sugarcane field is four tonnes; average yield of stevia extract that equals sweetness of sugar is over 60 tonnes from 0.4 ha, said N Barathi, director of Growmore Biotech Ltd in Tamil Nadu.

The market for stevia in India is limited because there are no processing units. The government-run Institute of Himalayan Bioresource Technology at Palampur in Himachal Pradesh is planning to set up the country’s first patented eco-friendly stevia processing unit near Delhi. (The unit’s capacity won’t be high—300 kg leaves a day.) Anil Sood, head of the biotechnology division of the institute, said the imported stevia extract contain little steviosides.

“It is generally a mixture of mannitol, a type of sugar alcohol, steviosides and other sugar molecules. Mannitol is an adulterant and not good for people in certain (health) conditions,” he said. “We are trying our best to convince the government to allow stevioside as sugar substitute in food and beverages.” FSSAI has not relented. The stevia industry believes artificial sweetener producers are sabotaging stevia’s prospects in India.

Stevia v artificial sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners are mired in controversy. Some of them were found to be carcinogenic. A study by the Centre of Advanced Studies in the University of Calcutta found acesulfame potassium and saccharine could damage the DNA.

Given the risk, doctors and dieticians are cautious about prescribing artificial sweeteners. Nutritionist Shikha Sharma, who runs the Nutri Health Systems chain of clinics, said, “Anything industry-made cannot replace what nature has given us.” Shubha Sabharwal, head dietician at Indraprastha Apollo Hospital in New Delhi, said artificial sweeteners like saccharine are associated with memory loss. Plant-based sweeteners are safer, she said. Her claim is substantiated by a study on stevia by the privately run Institute of Bioscience and Biotechnology Research and Development at Kochi in Kerala. “All organs were found to be normal even at high dosage of 2,000 mg stevioside per kg bodyweight,” said C Mohankumar, the institute director and lead author of the study published in Toxicology International in June 2010.

Some problematic studies claimed steviosides cause cancer and lower sex drive. These were discarded. “All problematic studies were conducted on rats and hamsters with absurdly high doses,” said Jon Barron, director of Baseline of Health Foundation, which provides online information on health and natural products.

Not everyone is convinced of stevia’s goodness.

‘Stevia not better’

Sudarshan Rao, scientist at the National Institute of Nutrition in Hyderabad, said all natural things are not necessarily good. He said food safety agencies in the West have recommended stevia only in small doses after toxicological studies (see: Safe limit).

“Stevia has a leafy aftertaste,” said an official of Zydus Cadilla in Ahmedabad that markets two low-calorie sweeteners— Sugar Free Gold (containing aspartame) and Sugar Free Natura (containing sucralose). “Taste is a very important component of product development.

It should be as close to sugar as possible,” he said. Industry representatives also said extracting stevioside is not viable as stevioside content in leaves is just 10-15 per cent and stevia leaves are in short supply. Given the opposition to stevia, it is uncertain if the sweetener would enter the Indian market.

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  • Dear Mr. Ankur Paliwal, I

    Dear Mr. Ankur Paliwal,

    I shall congratulate you for taking up STEVIA Issue as it is only natural sweetener which is ZERO CALORIE and far better then the permissible and available artificial sweeteners in the market, but due to some vested interests and lack of proper knowledge there is unnecessary opposition and reluctance to approve this wonderful sweetener which is now the first choice of calorie conscious and people suffering from diabetes all over the world.

    With the history of usage of Stevia in Japan and green signal by FDA USA and European Food Safety Administration there is no point why Indians shall not get benefited by this zero calorie natural sweetener.

    Today govt. of India is not giving importance to Stevia but day is not far when the benefit of Stevia Natural sweetener will be understood and government will come out will clear mandate of approving stevia as food additive, which will give way to thousands of zero calorie health products and minimize the usage of artificial sweeteners and sugar which is just flash energy.

    With more and more use of Stevia, the problem of diabetes will come down and the Indian young generation will be healthier rather then becoming prone to obesity and sugar base diseases.

    We at India Stevia Association ( ISA ) invite farmers, food and beverages, confectionery and health product manufacturers and processors to take this issue further so that Stevia is permitted as food additive in India, earliest possible.
    Stevia Biotech Pvt. Ltd. will not then, wait to start establishing more and more processing units all over India.

    This will not only give new opportunities to farmers, increasing their economic status, generate employment, but will also be helpful in making healthier society.

    I shall say very confidently that Stevia can never prove to be a competitor of Sugar, it will rather compliment it and support it in situation of deficit production of sugar and save valuable foreign exchange in importation of sugar.

    I also call upon Doctors, dieticians, food researchers, natural product lovers to come forward and recommend usage of Stevia to live an healthy life.

    Sourabh Agarwal
    Stevia Biotech Pvt. Ltd.
    New Delhi, India

    Posted by: Anonymous | 10 years ago | Reply
  • Dear Mr Agarwal, I

    Dear Mr Agarwal, I congratulate you for your exposé on Stevia. In fact, I do believe that it is great time now for the community to accept the reality that God has given mankind the power to study and make research. It have been proved that stevia is good as a sweetener and its use will help a lot in reducing diabetics. There is an urgent need for all people concerned to mobilise together and promote the use of Stevia. i am from Mauritius and Stevia has been introduced there is about two years, but we are being able to convince people to use it. Most diabetices patients are adopting it though it is very difficult for us to grow it in great quantity here in Mauritus. i would like to join your team and help to promote stevia. i can even share our experiences. In fact, we are prodicing herbal tea and have already included stevia into them so that the consumer do not have to add sugar. Thsi is very appreciated by the consumers of herbal tea in Mauritius. Please, give me the opportunity to learn more and share ideas together. thanks

    Posted by: Anonymous | 10 years ago | Reply
  • very interesting.

    very interesting.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 10 years ago | Reply
  • Yes! I too support this

    Yes! I too support this movement for recognizing Stevoside by FSSAI!

    Posted by: Anonymous | 10 years ago | Reply
  • Dear Anooradah Pooran, Thanks

    Dear Anooradah Pooran,
    Thanks for your comments,
    we invite all concern with stevia to join hands and
    work toward awareness development of stevia, let people know that how wonderfull this is to diabetic and calorie concious population.
    I welcome all in this effort.
    Keep in touch
    Sourabh Agarwal
    0091 9811988880

    Posted by: Anonymous | 10 years ago | Reply
  • I was looking for more info

    I was looking for more info on Stevia cultivation and the NMPB
    funding noms

    Posted by: Anonymous | 10 years ago | Reply
  • Great job here. I really

    Great job here. I really enjoyed what you had to say. Keep going because you definitely bring a new voice to this subject. Not many people would say what youÔÇÖve said and still make it interesting. Well, at least IÔÇÖm interested. Cant wait to see more of this from you.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 10 years ago | Reply
  • very interesting

    very interesting &knowledgeable. definitely i am going to make my students aware about this sweetener named stevia which is very natural.thanks ROSY BANSAL

    Posted by: Anonymous | 10 years ago | Reply
  • Dear Arun ji, Stevia is a

    Dear Arun ji,

    Stevia is a very good source of sweetener. I dont know why the govt is lazy on this issue when steviosid is approved in many developed of countries. We are seeign that the no Govt reserch institute is doing reserch toward the development of the stevia quality in india. If we compare with china, the quality is not so good but due to the promotion and assistance of China, China is far advance in stevia cultivation and stevioside. I am using stevioside i did find any bitter taste or health problem. One more thing no any big player/ business house is engaged in stevia /stevioside promotion. Still there is a quetion mark on GOVT side that why the GOVT are not approving stevia as a sweetener. If govt is finding that some thing is hazardous then put the paper in front of public that this is the problem that why govt is not approving the stevioside as a sweetener. Any way we have to a long. I hope that the govt will approve it very soon. As dibetic capital of world. India itself has a very good nice Market for the setvioside consumption. But it woul be very pain full if Chinies setvioside will enjoy the indian market if govt will approve the stevioside as a sweetener becous eout domestic supply of the stevioside and stevia leaves is near to zero.

    Please find the initial details about the Stevia Cultivation. As weu Know that Stevia is most profitable crop for the coming future. It is having the Stevioside content, the 300 time calorie free sweeter alternate of the sugar. The demand is increasing day by day due to the calorie free property. Which is good for the diabetic patients. We can provide you the complete solution for the stevia plantation.

    Brief details,

    1. Investment Rs 1,50,ooo/=( including the drip irrigation charges) only first year

    2. Annual maintenance Charge :- Rs 30,000/=

    3. Average Net Output at lower side:- Rs 1,50,000/year/Acre ( every year)

    4. Crop cycle:- 5 year plantation

    5. Buyback:- Rs 100/Kg

    We have complete solution of setvia plantation knowledge and technology to buyback, including planting material to farm input.

    If growers are willing to cultivate stevia 5 Acre in one lot. The fix cost will come down and the investment may come down . If there is subsidy of drip irrigation in your land in that condition The investment can comedown up to 1,25,000/-acre. For This growers will have to do the detail technical meeting. In the technical meeting we will discuss on all the aspect . Besides this we will also take growers on field visit of stevia crop. Then you will get an exposure. It will easy to growers to understand the crop.

    We also supply good quality planting material. We assist growers in installation of drip system. We can also supply the organic manure. The most important one that we will give you buy back for the grower,s crop production.

    Ganesh Prajapat
    (Executive Director)
    ACI Agrosolution
    93-A, Narayan Nagar Vistar,
    Benad Road,Jhotwara,
    Jaipur ( Rajasthan) India
    Contact +91-9509888669, 9194610229
    Email :-

    Posted by: Anonymous | 9 years ago | Reply
  • Hi Ankur ji and Sourabh ji, I

    Hi Ankur ji and Sourabh ji,

    I too join the army and support the cause of stevia as a food additive by FSSAI. I hope the day is not far when they have to admit its potential.

    I have been researching on stevia for quite some time now, its pros & cons and also studying its competitors as I am about to start stevia cultivation.

    Now after reading above info, the FSSAI's predilection is quite obvious. We know how determined we (govt) are when it comes to public health and we have seen it time and again w.r.t. usage of antibiotics over-the-counter (without prescription) and few banned drugs ages back which we can get them in pharmacies and medical shops even today.

    I sincerely support your efforts. Hope the day of Judgement comes soon.

    Thanks & Regards,

    Posted by: Anonymous | 7 years ago | Reply
  • It was shocking to read that

    It was shocking to read that natural sweeteners are not being promoted and instead artificial sweeteners are recommended, which is 300 times sweeter than sugar. But people are running behind low calorie food items. Anyways, thanks for the post. Keep sharing.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 6 years ago | Reply
  • hello, mr ankur and mr

    hello, mr ankur and mr saurabh, i too want to join u guys. I am working in a food company and want to use stevia as a sugar replacer, but not permitted by FSSAI.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply