Did you know Diet Coke in Japan is sweetened with the plant-based stevia?
About a year ago I blogged about the controversial all-natural sugar alternative called stevia. At the time, I lamented that stevia was not approved by the Food and Drug Adminstration (FDA) to even be called a sweetener...yet! But that may be about to change if a joint venture with The Coca-Cola Company and a major food additive business has anything to say about it (and you KNOW they will because money talks!).
This USA Today story notes that Coke as well as Cargill Foods have decided to take a serious look at a sweetener they want to call rebiana (a shortened word used for Stevia Rebaudiana). Remember that name they have come up with because it's the term these companies are going to be using for stevia soon and it's been three years in the making.
For people who are livin' la vida low-carb and choose to avoid the use of the chemical-based sweeteners that dominate the marketplace, such as saccharin (Sweet 'N Low), aspartame (Nutrasweet, Equal), and sucralose (Splenda), many of us have been using stevia instead because it contains ZERO calories and carbohydrates. That's certainly impressive nutritional info for a natural alternative to sugar.
But it's gonna be a bit of an uphill battle to get stevia approved since the FDA has come down so strongly AGAINST approving it while this list of sugar alternatives get a free pass--all of which are made from chemicals. But there are still a lot of people who have concerns over the safety of these products (and I get e-mails from people ALL THE TIME about my support for Splenda--get over it already people. That stuff helped me overcome morbid obesity, so leave it be!).
As a result, that's the allure of having commercial acceptance of stevia in a popular product like Diet Coke. With crazy new product concepts like the vitamin-infused Diet Coke Plus (made with aspartame), the "calorie-burning" Enviga (also sweetened with aspartame and a touch of ACE-K), and their marketing darling of the moment Coke Zero (yep, you guessed it, sweetened with aspartame and ACE-K), this idea of making a Diet Coke with Stevia is the best thing they've come up with since my favorite sugar-free soda Diet Coke with Splenda was released to the market (although they've never given it the proper marketing IMHO!).
Interestingly, stevia IS already being used in Diet Coke--in Japan, where stevia boasts a robust 40% of the sweetener market, as well as in Brazil, China, and nine other industrialized countries. So what's taking America so long to get going with this in this country already? The FDA needs to get its head out of their backside and approve stevia as a sweetener.
Are they afraid of the competition it will give that disgusting NASTY-tame? If so, then GOOD! They should be because it's high time people have other alternatives. I'm tired of seeing Nutrasweet in EVERYTHING sugar-free/low-carb I would want to purchase. Put Splenda or stevia in some of these products already! There's a bunch of us who don't like aspartame at all!
Currently, the Coca-Cola Company has been seriously looking at this since 2004 and last week filed a total of 24 patents to begin removing the sweetest parts of stevia so they can come up with the perfect taste and blend of rebiana to be used in their future versions of Diet Coke.
It's not yet known if this new sweetener will eventually be phased in to replaced aspartame or if it will be mixed with ACE-K or other sweeteners in totally different products altogether. But clearly Coke is ready to put stevia on the fast-track to FDA approval.
As for Cargill Foods, they intend to use this stevia-based sweetener in foods like yogurt, cereal, ice cream, and other sugar-free sweet treats. This is expected to be a huge undertaking that could quite literally shake up the food and beverage industry unlike anything that has come along in the past few decades. This is long overdue in America and I can't wait to see it come.
A Cargill representative said this was a "significant investment," so don't expect them to take no for an answer from self-serving interest groups who will oppose the use of stevia in this manner to cover their bedonkadonks with the artificial sweetener companies. That's why Cargill has already begun the process of petitioning the FDA to use stevia as a food additive. It's gonna be difficult, but I'm confident they'll get approval. Stay tuned!
Although Coke is saying the stevia they have tested in several of their products has performed just as well as the aspartame and sucralose for sweetness, I'm not as convinced about it. Sure, stevia is an excellent product and I have used it myself in various forms, but the black licorice-like bitterness can be a real turn-off to some people. The blend will have to be perfect.
I'm sure if stevia finally does make it into a Diet Coke product in the next few years that they'll make it taste as sweet as possible by very likely using an ACE-K blend. It'll probably resemble the aspartame/ACE-K blends that dominate the Coca-Cola line of sugar-free products today. This will be a HUGE step in the right direction for the world's #1 beverage maker (although I wouldn't mind having more Splenda-sweetened options, too--HINT HINT!).
If rebiana becomes a household name thanks to Coke and Cargill Foods, then you can expect PepsiCo, Dannon, and other rivals in the sugar-free/low-carb market to develop their own versions of stevia-sweetened products--perhaps they'll be allowed to actually call it stevia. Actually, if they're smart, then they'll start working on this NOW!
I've long held that having an "all-natural" sweetener like stevia is already on the cutting edge and it's only a matter of time before it is as widely used in the United States just as it is in Japan today. It's not a matter of if, but when. I can't wait to try a Rebiana Coke with a green stevia leaf on the can as a logo to distinguish it from the other versions. This will be the most unique diet soda product to ever release!
Are you ready for a Diet Coke made with stevia?