Wisdom produces ‘whole leaf’ stevia products (which it markets under the Sweetleaf Sweetener brand) that use a combination of steviol glycosides from the leaf, and its lines include a food ingredient, a tabletop sweetener in granulated form and an associated liquid formulation for consumers.
Stevia – or rather steviol glycosides derived from the plant – is expected to be granted a legal license for European use by the EU Commission, following a positive verdict from EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) back in April.
Speaking to FoodNavigator.com, Wisdom founder and ‘father of Stevia’ Jim May said he was excited about this development: “2009 wasn’t a great year, but in 2010 we’ve seen a phenomenal increase in sales.
“The main issue is to produce the product faster, and we’re opening a new facility in Chile over the next few weeks that will increase the amount of ingredient we produce by 500 per cent.”
Water extraction method
“We’re really making a mark within the industry, and food and drink firms are saying ‘why aren’t you coming to us?’, when the big ingredient makers are beating a path to their door.”
This is due to “bitter disappointment” over the taste of synthetic Reb A ingredients and “excitement” over Wisdom’s new water-only extraction method for its combination of stevia glycosides," May says.
May claims that his smaller company has a significant advantage given this method, which he has personally developed with South American scientists over the past three years.
He contends that, where larger-scale producers of stevia-based ingredients use solvents and alcohols to remove and isolate glycosides, this leads to a “bad lingering aftertaste” that chemical masking agents are then used to disguise.
May has devoted 28 years to convincing government bodies and consumers about the natural advantages of stevia, and he is also emphatic about its safety record.
“Even using chemical extraction methods it is still safer than artificial sweeteners such as sucralose and aspartame,” he said.
“That said we need to stress stevia’s safety record. Going forward, proponents of artificial sweeteners may try to push inaccurate information to slow down uptake.
“But studies alleging reproductive problems are nonsense – if it were such an issue then the population would have fallen markedly in Japan, but stevia products have been used widely there for 25 years.
Wisdom Natural Brands also uses natural prebiotic fibre inulin as a carrier in its Sweetleaf Tabletop Sweetener – whereas he says firms such as Cargill use around 99.9% Erythritol.
Thus May says that Sweetleaf Stevia provides the great taste of stevia alongside the benefits usually associated with the growth of good bacteria.
Although he admits that classification of stevia as a sweetener by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and EFSA means that the Wisdom can’t make functional health claims for its products, he is still sanguine about stevia’s advantages.
“In its whole leaf form stevia is ideal for diabetics, where it has a zero GI (glycemic index) rating, while it also nourishes the pancreas and is great for oral hygiene, where bacteria consume stevia but cannot digest it, and therefore die.
“But we can’t make health claims for our products – that’s the quickest way to get them taken off the market.”