AFTER a decade of research, CQUniversity has received approval for the natural sweetener steviol glycosides (stevia), as an ingredient in foods and beverages in Australia and New Zealand.
The Australian food authority FSANZ approved the use of the sweetener, which is an intense sweetner, 250 times sweeter than sugar. It is due to be gazetted on Thursday.
CQUniversity Professor David Midmore said stevia has been recognised as a potential new high-value crop for farmers.
Steviol glycosides - an extract of leaves of the plant Stevia rebaudiana - can be used in any food or drink that now contains sugar. Initially it is likely to replace existing chemical sweeteners, especially in ‘diet' drinks.
Professor Midmore said the approval process confirmed the "complete safety" of stevia.
"CQUniversity believes that it will make an important contribution in low-calorie drinks," he said.
"For example, one litre of sugar-sweetened soft drink contains at least 1700kJ of energy, whereas when sweetened with stevia the energy content will be as low as 7 kJ.
"We see stevia becoming a significant tool/ingredient for community use in the fight against obesity and the associated metabolic syndrome and diabetes (type II).
"This ‘calorie free' sweetener is completely safe for use by all consumers including diabetics as shown in hundreds of trials in many countries. The results from these trials were a key factor in the approval by FSANZ. The safety is also confirmed by experience in Japan where it has been used by a population of 90 million people for 35 years without a single adverse effect ever being reported or suspected."