In the past few years, you’ve probably heard a lot about a sugar substitute called stevia. This sweetener, which comes from a plant native to South America and has been used to sweeten foods for hundreds of years, is already on the ingredient list in several of the foods throughout your grocery store. Because so many products use it, stevia has become a shopper’s favorite, especially for consumers trying to eat a balanced diet.

“Consumers have been looking for a natural way to sweeten products without calories,” says George Pugh, PhD, stevia expert and Director of Scientific and Regulatory Affairs for Coca-Cola. The company invested years of research into the development and study of stevia. In part because of their hard work, Food Safety Australia New Zealand gave it their stamp of approval to be used in foods and as a baking ingredient in 2008. “Coca-Cola paved the way,” says Pugh. “Now stevia is available in 75 countries around the world.”

Here’s a breakdown of what stevia is, where you can find it, and how it can help you maintain a healthy lifestyle.

  • The stevia plant is in the Chrysanthemum family.

  • There are hundreds of different species of stevia plant, but only one, called Stevia Rebaudiana, contains natural chemicals that make its leaves taste sweet.

  • To create the sweetener, leaves of the stevia plant are refined until only the sweet-tasting molecular compounds remain.

  • The sweetener is kilojoule-free, making it a great option for people trying to manage their weight.

  • Here in New Zealand, stevia can currently be found in Fuze Tea.

  • Stevia helps keep kilojoule counts down because it’s 200 times sweeter than sugar—that means a little goes a long way.

  • You can cook and bake with stevia. Just be sure to consult a sugar-to-stevia conversion chart to make sure you’re using the right amount.