Last Updated Mar 17, 2009 7:01 PM EDT
Then it happened. Then the FDA gave "generally regarded as safe" notice to two stevia-based products, PepsiCo put out three flavors of stevia-sweetened SoBe Lifewater, and Coca-Cola launched Sprite Green.
It was pretty gross.
Apparently, stevia is one superhero that requires a mask. It has an aftertaste that's either bitter, licorice-flavored, or of "clinging sweetness." Drink makers are still enthusiastic about stevia, but clearly there remains some work to be done.
Several companies are working on the problem. Comax Flavors this week announced that it was releasing a natural masking flavor to cover up stevia's unpleasant aftertastes. And last month, Givaudan Flavours said it had discovered the bitter taste receptors that stevia sweeteners trigger, and applied for patents related to these discoveries. Meanwhile, Blue California, along with other companies, has suggested that if you only use purer stevia extracts, like they do, everything will taste fine.
But McNeil Nutritionals has the best solution. Its new Sun Crystals All Natural Sweetener uses stevia, but mixes it with another product to mask the taste -- sugar. The result is still natural, but not quite as calorific as sugar by itself.