Is Stevia The New Sugar?

While a crackdown on soda, energy drinks and other sweet beverages is underway, a plant just may be the answer to the war between manufacturers and policy makers.

Many soft drink companies have begun making low- to mid-calorie soft drinks using the stevia plant. While it's all-natural, the plant is nearly 300 times sweeter than sugar and does not have the cancer concerns associated with sugar substitutes, according to Market Playground.

And, with soda consumption down 17 percent from 1998 and criticism from health critics blaming obesity statistics on sugary drinks, soda makers have been producing these low-calorie drinks in higher numbers using a combination of stevia plants and high fructose corn syrup or cane sugar.

Despite this spike in demand for stevia, consumer analyst Melanie Felgate told Beverage Daily that companies will have to find a way to eliminate the displeasing aftertaste associated with stevia to make these products more marketable.

"If mid-calorie soft drink manufacturers can overcome the bitter aftertaste associated with stevia, there will be opportunities to reduce the amount of sugar even further," she said.