E960 – Natural or Not?

Unlike in the US, food and beverage companies in the European Union are not allowed to label stevia as natural. Lately articles questioning the naturalness of stevia are prominent. Why is this so and what is the truth about the naturalness of steviol glycosides? Here are the facts, one by one:

1. The additive issue: Steviol glycosides were approved as a sweetener (E960) and all sweeteners are classified as additives. Additives can by EU law not be labeled natural. In the food additive regulations there is no distinction made between natural and artificial sweeteners.

2. The naturalness issue: Critics claim that stevia is not more natural than other sweeteners. In this argument stevia is mixed up with chemically synthesized artificial sweeteners, defined as: “A sweetener which does not exist in the nature and is created by chemical synthesizing, using two or more chemicals to build a new chemical”. Steviol glycosides are compounds that already exist in the stevia leaves. It is a perfectly natural sweetening compound.

3. The chemical process issue: The critique sometimes refers to the production process. EU legislations demand a highly purified extract, at a minimum of 95% pure steviol glycosides. The extraction of steviol glycosides to this purity requires extraction in water and purification by using a mixture of water and ethanol on adsorption resins. The process does not alter the steviol glycosides components – they are extracted in their natural forms.

Despite the attempts to defame its naturalness stevia will take its position in the European market as it proves itself to be superior to its competitors.