Sunday, 3 February 2013

Growing Stevia in Kenya:A leaf 30 times sweeter than sugar

Growing stevia in Kenya is a good backyard gardening activity for every household. This is a perfect way to reduce the household budget of sugar, as the sweetener is 30 times sweeter than sugar. Stevia herbal sugar offers sweetness minus the unhealthy effects and the sweetener is calorie free. The leaves can be used directly in tea fresh or dried. The natural leaves can also be cooked and eaten as vegetables. Stevia herbal sweetener is said to be good for all people including diabetics.

Stevia herb is native of Paraguay in South America which performs well locally. Growing Stevia in Kenya was given approval  just two years ago by the National Environment Management Authority. Stevia sweetener as an ingredient was approved by US Food and Drug Administration in 2008. Stevia herb is also nutritious and has been found to contain vitamins A and C as well as protein iron, calcium, zinc, fibre, potassium and sodium. Stevia herb contains 10-12 per cent stevioside, which can be extracted as liquid concentrate for use directly in soft drinks, beverages and in the manufacture of chewing gums.

Growing stevia in Kenya is a promising activity as the market may shoot up due increased demand for natural foods. Growing stevia in Kenya starts by planting on a raised bed at a spacing of 30cm from row to row and 20cm from plant to plant. Manure is applied at a rate of 20kg per square metre. Stevia herbal sweetener is harvested 3 months after planting, after which the crop is dried and ground into powder for use as a sweetener. Alternatively juice can be extracted and used in a similar way. Growing stevia in Kenya is likely to become a major economic activity in the near future  as more people embrace it.