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Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) is a species native to Brazil and Paraguay that has been introduced in Japan and Europe.
Interest in this plant has increased because its leaves are rich in sweet compounds (steviol glycosides), which are 100 – 400 times sweeter than sugar. They cannot be metabolized by the human body, so stevia-based sweeteners are non-caloric.
Stevia extracts were initially used by Coca-Cola and PepsiCo as additives to Sprite Green and SoBe LifeWater drinks. In Europe stevia was approved as a food additive at the end of 2011, and food products (such as candies, chocolates and cakes) containing stevia quickly appeared on the market.
In Poland the first stevia-containing product was Activia Light yogurt (introduced by Danone in January 2013), which contains 35% less sugar than traditional yogurt.
Stevia grows well on light, well-drained soils. It is not frost-resistant, and is therefore grown in Europe as an annual.