Truvia taste test: not so sweet

Artificial sweetners make up a $3.5 billion market--do people really still eat saccharin?--and Cargill's hopes to claim a slice of that pie with the first zero-cal sweetener to come from natural sources.

Minnetonka-based Cargill, known for its food wholesale food businesses, has just made its first major step straight into the consumer market. The Star Tribune reports that Cargill has just started to market its new sweetener, Truvia, with prime TV ad spots.

Truvia is a zero-calorie sweetener made from the leaves of a South American shrub called stevia, and, of course, there are already plans for it to start showing up in a few Odwalla products (not to be outdone, Pepsi plans to sell two beverages sweetened with "PureVia," another stevia sweetner made by the same company that makes Equal).

Before you rush out to buy Truvia, keep in mind that it hasn't yet been approved by the FDA. (Sketchier still, apparently it's not required to be approved, but that's another story.) Though stevia is widely used in other countries (South America, Japan), it's banned for food use in Europe and Hong Kong. It's been approved by the FDA as a "dietary supplement" but not a "food additive"--wha? Apparently, that designation typically means the product can be sold in health-food stores but not yet on mainstream supermaket shelves. Is the FDA basically admitting it uses hippies as guinea pigs?

Truvia doesn't seem to be available locally yet (you can order online), but Cargill sent me a sample after they intruduced Truvia at the the Fancy Food Show in New York last spring. Before I tell you what it tasted like, I want to note that, as a restaurant reviewer, I try to keep an open mind towards all food--inestine, guinea pig, SPAM, what have you. The one category of foodstuffs (or "phoodstuffs") I will admit to be biased against is artificial sweeteners.

So, as zero-cal sweetener-hater, I can tell you that I hated Truvia. Its tiny, white grains are finer than granular sugar and have a horrid, piercing, supersweetness. I made my friends try it, and they hated it too. (One added a pinch it to her coffee and ended up pouring out the rest of the cup.) It even ruined the perfectly good chocolate bar that Cargill sent. If you aren't supposed to be eating sugar for medical reasons, by all means, try Truvia. As for the rest of you, I wouldn't recommend it.