The US Food and Drug Administration has given the green light for stevia to be used in food and drink applications after deciding the ingredient poses no health risks.
The agency has granted the all-natural sweetener status as generally recognised as safe (GRAS) after being pressed to do so by sweetener suppliers Cargill and Merisant Company.
Stevia's newly acquired GRAS status is likely to open the floodgates for a raft of new launches of products containing the sweetener. The Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo will be among them, having already confirmed plans to market beverages containing the ingredient.
Stevia was in the headlines just days before the FDA announced its verdict, after the Wall Street Journal claimed that The Coca-Cola Company was poised to launch a beverage containing stevia imminently.
The newspaper said Coke planned to begin selling three flavours of a juice drink in its Odwalla line containing stevia on the US market even though the FDA had not yet issued formal approval of the ingredient under GRAS, which is a voluntary programme.
But the FDA's conferral of GRAS status came just a few days after the story broke, and means Coca-Cola, and others, can press ahead with launches of products that contain stevia with the knowledge they have the FDA on their side.