Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Stevia Extract

I tried to grow some stevia last year because I found a plant on sale at Canadian Tire for super cheap but accidentally killed it (I think it may have been too far gone when I bought it).  I bought another one this year and it thrived, but I wasn't really sure what to do with it.  Sometimes I buy plants because they are cool but don't know how to use them...

Stevia, if you don't know, is a plant with super sweet leaves (generally about 30-40 times sweeter than sugar).  But like, what am I going to do with a bunch of sweet leaves?  Use them in cookies?  No.  So I Googled what to do and came up with stevia extract.

Basically, all you do to make stevia extract (and almost any type of "extract" you want, really) is steep the leaves in flavourless alcohol, aka vodka.  With stevia extract though you're not supposed to steep longer than two days or it will turn bitter, whereas with others, like vanilla extract, you leave the beans in the vodka indefinitely and should wait at least a couple months before using it (on that note, I'm also making vanilla extract using this method).

So the other day, I harvested a bunch of leaves off my stevia plant (it was pretty big so I didn't come close to using all the leaves - I may try to keep it alive over the winter and plant it in my future yard next summer), chopped them up, put them in a jar, and covered the leaves with vodka:

 Sorry for the not-great photos - and yes that's a jar that was used as a rehearsal dinner vase...

I let them sit in a dark room for a couple days, then strained everything out:

 The leaves were yellowish at the end.

Since this was just a trial, and I didn't want to waste a ton of vodka by making a ton of it in case it didn't turn out, I just made this little jar full.  Apparently you can simmer off the alcohol and reduce it to increase the sweetness but then it will only keep in the fridge for a few months, and I don't see myself powering through this whole jar in a couple months so I left it in its full alcoholic, shelf-stable version.  It definitely doesn't taste "boozy" and has an interesting, very sweet herby flavour.  I wouldn't recommend using it as a sweetener in tea or coffee in place of honey or sugar but I think it will lend itself nicely to green tea and peppermint lattes, or mojitos!  It actually might even make an interesting soda-type drink if you added it to sparkling water - I don't think there'd be a need to add enough to make it a fully alcoholic drink because it is very sweet.

Speaking of mint, I'm currently in the process of drying all my leftover mint from the summer to create a mixed-mint tea which I hope works out too - I've got orange, ginger, and lime mint all mixed together and I'm drying a few stevia leaves with the bunch to see if it adds a hint of sweetness (to get the full effect of stevia apparently you need to make an extract as just adding a few leaves to a drink will not create much noticeable sweetness).  I figured this year should be the year I actually do something with my herbs at the end of the summer instead of just let them die off, and I'm hoping to keep a few cuttings alive over the winter so I don't have to buy new ones next year either.  I think if this tea thing works out I'll definitely do it again next year and also try to make some mint extracts too - I think some mint and stevia extracts added to warm milk would make a really delicious winter drink.

Of course these are all ideas - I will need to do some experimenting over the next while!

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