Sunday, August 16, 2009

PureVia is PureCrap

I've seen this ad poking around for the artificial sweetener du jour, PureVia. Also known as Reb A, this chemical is in a sense natural. It is extracted from a plant with water, and the resulting slurry is about 50% Reb A. The sweetener is extracted through crystallization and "other" techniques.

Still, I love the marketing direction. "It's NATURAL." Same tack that Splenda took. "It tastes like sugar because it's made from sugar." Fuck you, it tastes like sugar. All of the marketing dollars in the world, and whether it's made from sugar or extracted from a plant, it all tastes like ass. Aspartame, Saccharin, Splenda, and now PureVia all taste the same. They're chemically different, and made differently, but they all taste the same. It's absurd to say they taste like sugar, because if that was the case we'd have a free lunch. Coca-Cola would stop using sugar, cakes would have one-half the calories, the sun would always shine and eternal happiness would descend upon the globe.

But we don't have that. We have a bunch of molecules that have the same, nasty, aspartamey aftertaste. I tried the new Tropicana Trop 50 low-calorie OJ. It said naturally sweetened. Silly me. I assumed that meant, I dunno, fruit juice... from fruit. Poured a glass, and there it was, nastiness. Pure, unadulterated nastiness. The most disgusting orange juice I've ever had the displeasure of drinking. At the time, I was unaware of Reb A, and stupidly thinking that there was no artificial sweetener in it, its presence on the ingredient list was written off with my original hypothesis of the drinks genesis.

Namely, I figured that they reduced the calories by removing some of the sugar, and using some chemical to reduce the bitter and sour flavors in the remaining solution. Thus resulting in a low-calorie drink that simply tasted like watered-down OJ. No such luck. I'm not kidding when I say that simply watering down your own OJ to create a low-calorie drink would taste significantly better. It's annoying that they can say naturally sweetened with Reb A, since it really is a plant extract, because now they basically use that as a lie, attempting to pass off stuff that tastes like ass as stuff that does not taste like ass.

There's no free lunch, people. If you don't want the calories of soda, drink water. And if you have diabetes... I feel so, so bad for you.

Oh, and if you want to hear how fucking natural Splenda is, read the way it's "made from sugar."

It is manufactured by the selective chlorination of sucrose (table sugar), which converts three of the hydroxyl groups to chlorides. The selective chlorination is achieved by selective protection of the primary alcohol groups followed by acetylation and then deprotection of the primary alcohol groups. The partially acetylated sugar is then chlorinated with a chlorinating agent such as phosphorus oxychloride, followed by deprotection of the ester to give sucralose.

It's interesting that Splenda, even though it's made from sugar, doesn't allow manufacturers to claim "natural sweetener" like Reb A. Oh yeah. Splenda really is JUST LIKE SUGAR. Just like I'm the queen of England.

UPDATE: I have found what might be the most authoritative overview of Reb-A derived sweeteners Truvia and PureVia.

Truvia and PureVia Part 1– A Window to the Past or the Future?
Truvia and PureVia Part 2- The Science Behind the Sweeteners
Truvia and PureVia Part -: The Controversy of Stevia

What struck me about the whole mess is the intense focus of the marketing on how natural this garbage is. Look at the logos, BOTH of them implement a leaf image in the same damned way. Both are "light" and "earthy." Or look at the company that's "making" PureVia, The Whole Earth Sweetener Company. The company was built from the ground up to be Earthy and organic. It's a freaking shell company built solely to market PureVia. From their website's About Us section, "Our job is to grow and produce 100% naturally sweetened products." And by that, they mean shill 100% Reb-A crap.

Oooooooooh, this chaps my ass so much. The marketers have been waiting for years, foaming at the mouth, to be able to market this swill as natural. Scientific studies about the sweetener are of poor quality and most were funded by the sweetener companies in hope of pushing it through to the public. Even worse, some of the reports were published in Elsevier journals! I seriously doubt there's anything dangerous about the shit, but it's still shit. And both PureVia and Truvia, which are loaded with chemicals other than Reb-A, are barely natural. How dare they call this natural, and wrap it up in graphics of leaves, Earth, and happy little organic yuppies.

As the Nutrition Wonderland story explains, the clusterfuck with the FDA and the "research" being funded by all of the companies making the product, we have Truvia and PureVia because of a huge financial push by the companies we should least trust. I'm no conspiracy theorist and I seriously doubt this stuff is incredibly dangerous, but the fact of the matter is that this is NOT natural and still tastes terrible. Saying that a product is "NATURALLY SWEETENED!" with Reb-A borders on being a lie. It is technically true, and I suppose if you are worried about possible negative effects from other sweeteners, and you are incredibly gullible, then the marketing might work on you. It does not work on me. All it does is piss me off. I don't need their natural sweetener, because I've already found a better one. It's called sugar, and I think it's swell.


Elizabeth said...

ha ha that was just what i needed. i usually stick to vitamin water, thought i'd try something new. my bad. but some sobe life water, it said it was naturally sweetened so i went for it. i took a drink and was like "bleh!!!" so i looked it up when i got home, and yeah, you're full on - it tastes like ass. im stickin to vitamin water.

Aaron MC said...

Hi Elizabeth,

Yeah. We're now going to have to keep a keen eye out for this tricky advertising. "Naturally sweetened" is now a meaningless phrase.

If your interested, you could also give coconut water a try. CocoVia. It's a little high in calories, about 80 per container, and it's pricey, but it's really good.

Tony said...

Stevia has been around for years in dried leaf and extract form. It was known for it's bitter qualities, and as such producers tried to make less- and non-bitter varieties. It was never FDA approved, though, and could only be sold as a 'dietary supplement' along with vitamins and such. A few adventurous manufacturers tried making diet beverages with it, but those also had to go on the same shelves.

About a year ago now it finally got the ok. Brand names of varying repute are popping up and it's shifted from the health supplement shelves to the grocery aisle.

I think it's nice to have the 'natural artificial sweetener' out there for those who desire it, but It does still taste rather assish, unfortunately. I hadn't even thought about sneaking it in on 'all natural, low cal' until my other half grabbed a bottle of VitaminWater10. He mentioned the odd flavor, I took a sip and then checked the label -- sure enough!

Of course, you may have known all that already, but FYI just in case not.

Aaron MC said...

Hi Tony,

Yeah. I already knew the history of Reb-A/Stevia, but thank you for posting it. People that didn't know will certainly appreciate the extra information.

I agree that from a marketing standpoint, it's great. Zero-cal, but natural. For people who are afraid of the seemingly immortal specter of Sweet N' Low-induced cancer, this must be a God send.

But they all taste the same. A good analogy to me would be ten car companies, all selling identical cars, right down to the color. The fact that one is made from steel and another from steel-like wood doesn't matter. It just seems pointless to me.

Anonymous said...

Ugh....I was caught too with Trop 50 at my Wholefoods no less, those punks had it in with the OJ. O.k I am a mom and not always looking too close at labels but I avoid all non- sugar additives like the plague. I only discovered it as I poured it for my girls and my heart sank. Tasted it..and ya, tasted like ass. Horrible!

Aaron MC said...

Hi Anonymous,

Exactly! You're not alone. And even if you were, I looked and it made no difference. I looked long and hard at the label and was still fooled. It's really annoying.

My view: just have juice. OJ with pulp; fresh, unfiltered apple juice; V* Fusion (holy crap, that stuff is good).

Avoid soda unless as a treat. Eat candy sparingly. I mean, this isn't hard. Why drink crappy juice when eating and drinking the good stuff is easy? Marketers try so hard to tell us that we can have our cake and eat it, too. I think that we can, just not through their products.

Anonymous said...

Vitamin Water!!??!! My God! Who the fuck in their sane mind thinks Vitamin water is actually good for you? Yikes!

Aaron MC said...

Hi anonymous,

Some people, but certainly not this judge, who ruled that Vitamin Water cannot claim to be healthy!

Yay for intelligent rulings!

Keith said...

I've tried many Stevia products & most taste like sugar. I've tried Sobe Life water with Purevia & it's awesome. It does taste like sugar. It is a natural extract. There are other brands of Stevia extract the are more pure & natural. NuStevia by NuNaturals it by far the best tasting. Pure Stevia is also available. Before spending time listening to someone’s rant I suggest just try it. Sobe Life water is only a buck ($1) Coke also has a version called Vitamin water Zero. Also very good. Sobe offers a buy one get one free coupon at their web site so it's only $0.50 per bottle.

Aaron MC said...

Hi Keith,

I've heard that from a number of people. My girlfriend's sister is actually incapable of detecting a difference between Truvia (her chosen brand) and sugar.

I and most of my friends, though, are not like that. We notice a large difference. And while Stevia-related products taste less... uck... than good ol' Nutrisweet, they still taste similar, just less intense.

Moreover, I've tried pure Stevia, or as pure as you can get, which doesn't taste like sugar. It's not a pure sweet flavor. It's overpowering and almost jarring, which is probably the reason why the commercial brands are blends with other chemicals. Even Nustevia's most concentrated mixture is mixed with alcohol and glycerin to the tune of about 1 gram per teaspoon. Pure Stevia is very far from sugar indeed.

Moreover, Stevia is certainly technically natural. It is a chemical extracted directly from a wild resource with no manipulation of the actual Reb-A molecule. But there are lots of chemicals out there that are seen precisely as such, chemicals of the chemically-chemical type, even though they may come from wild resources. Reb-A is not something easily extractable from nature.

To explain myself, I juxtapose the reality of Stevia to sugar. You can make sugar at home with sugar beets. Clean, heat, chop, mash, and strain the juice from the beets. Boil off the water from this beet juice and, boom, you have sugar. Something anyone at home can do.

Now, from the Wikipedia page, how one goes about making Reb-A,

"stevia plants are dried and subjected to a water extraction process. This crude extract contains about 50% rebaudioside A and is refined using ethanol, methanol, crystallization and separation technologies to separate the various glycoside molecules in the extract. This allows the manufacturer to isolate pure rebaudioside A.

The National Research Council of Canada has patented a process for extracting sweet compounds from Stevia by column extraction at temperatures from 0-25°C , followed by purification by nanofiltration. A microfiltration pretreatment step is used to clarify the extract. Purification is by ultrafiltration followed by nanofiltration."

This only isolates the pure Reb-A. After that, the chemical needs to be combined with something to make it table-usable, such as the maltodextrin or erythritol used with the aforementioned Nustevia brand.

Yum. Just like Grandma used to make.

On the subject of Sobe Life Water and VitaminWater, the point isn't that you can get low-cal versions of the drinks, it's that the drinks aren't any better for you than soda sweetened with the same stuff. If you want to be honestly healthy, drink ordinary water and take a multivitamin. It's cheaper, too.

Keith said...

I'm not much of a water drinker. I need some Flavor. I've tried Stevia sweetened soda & they don't taste as good & the are twice the price. Sobe water seemed to do the trick. I've lost 52lbs in 4 months by eliminating sugar drinks & switching to Stevia. I only keep Sobe life water (0cal) in my fridge & I offer it to guests & they don't realize that it's not sugar until I tell them.
Stevia can also help fight cancer instead of feeding it like sugar, aspartame & Splenda.
The maltodextrin is rice fiber to keep it as a usable powder & erythritol is alcohol from sugar to give it that sugar like taste. It is currently the healthiest alternative to sugar.
I have heard of a few people not liking Reb-a Products but it seems to be few. I guess it comes down to your taste buds. For example: I don't like broccolli it tastes bitter to me & my wife loves it & thinks it's sweet.
The only thing I can suggest to everyone is to try it for your self.

Aaron MC said...


A good friend of mine has dropped over twenty pounds by ditching sugary drinks as well. He switched to tea sweetened with Splenda, but the concept is the same.

Your other points on that are certainly true. If you want a little flavor in your water, you either accept the calories or go for one of the zero-cal alternatives like Stevia. I prefer to follow my taste buds, but if you don't mind the taste difference or really can't tell, it's a win-win situation.

Still, my complaints about Reb-A stand. Yes, neither maltodextrin or erythritol are terribly bizarre things. You can buy the former in cooking supply places and the latter is probably included in chemistry sets from Target. Very common stuff. But still, they have to go through acrobatics to get this stuff usable, as opposed to simply boiling some beets.

I, like you, think that everyone should try it. It's certainly worth a shot. I hate it, and anyone acquainted with the flavor of aspartame or sucralose, and suitably disposed, will know why I hate it.

My primary criticism comes down to the marketing. The aforementioned manufacturing acrobatics that go into the product render its "natural" and "wholesome" marketing schtick suspect, even if they are technically correct. For years, naturally sweetened meant sugar of some sort, which meant as long as the damned Nutrisweet or Splenda logos weren't somewhere on the bottle, I could buy it without having to check the ingredient list. For me, natural means that I can do it in my kitchen.

Companies and marketers are trying their hardest to cover up what they do. For example, the various orange juice companies have images of orange groves, and straws in oranges, and other such farmy-fresh images. The reality is like a scene from "Brazil," with massive tanks, de-aerated orange juice chilled under pressure for months on end, and flavor packs of orange oils and other compounds.

I'm not taken in by the marketing in that situation, but I also don't care. I know that the image they present on the package is a lie, but what does it matter? Because even if they aren't directly squeezing oranges into a box, it's still orange juice in the end. It tastes like OJ, pours like OJ; it's OJ. Yum.

I didn't care because there were certain things about which they couldn't lie. My following example is a bit extreme, but I think that the principle is the same.

Imagine that OJ is made from oranges. Now, imagine another company has discovered a way to make OJ-like juice, but from apples. They can technically put "fresh-squeezed," and pictures of oranges all over the front of the bottle. They aren't lying, they never actually said that it was orange juice, but the poor person who buys it thinking that they're buying OJ will be shocked and annoyed that they've wasted money.

I liken that to this situation. "Naturally Sweetened" isn't a lie, but where that phrase once meant sugar, an association that the marketers are exploiting, it is now meaningless. That pisses me off because it means that there is yet one more thing that I can not believe on packages at the store. I'm reduced to checking the nutrition labels, which themselves aren't accurate, and reading ingredient lists on everything I buy because a phrase that they once could not legally say, they now can.

Anonymous said...

The beauty behind these chemicals is that they are alternatives to useless calories that fat america is used to shoving down their fat throats. If they can have the sense enough to eat healthy, maybe they can chose alternatives that are healthy but spoil their senses. The reason we crave sugar so much is because in many cases we quite litterally are addicted to it. Sugar is in no way a necessary chemical for are body the way we intake it. So if we can find healthy plant extracted ingredients with zero calories to lessen our addiction to the unhealthy why do you all fight it? Darwinism?

Aaron MC said...

Hi Anonymous,

I'm fighting it from the gourmet perspective. None of these chemicals tastes like good, old-fashioned sugar. I recognize that there are other perspectives, such as a diabetic, but for most of us, these chemicals are an absolutely ersatz sweetener in every way.

I take issue with your weight-control argument. We now have multiple studies showing that those who consume zero-cal sweeteners gain weight. We cannot spoil our senses without consequences throughout the body. We are complex, interconnected, reciprocal machines.

Zero-calorie sweeteners are no way to lose weight, even if they had no negative physiological effect as it now seems that they do. A person's weight problem is a complex thing, just as he or she is. It is physiological and behavioral, but it is also psychological, which is a problem that zero-cal sweeteners not only ignore, they make it positively worse.

If one is taking in too much sugar, and one starts to crave it constantly, the solution is not to trick the body into thinking that it is getting what it wants. The solution is to break the cycle entirely.

Keith said...

Personally I prefer the taste of Sobe Life water over vitamin water but it really doesn't matter. they have the same sweetener. Sobe (Pepsi) uses Purevia & Vitamin Water (Coke)uses Truvia. different brand names of the same sweetener.

Stevia is a natural sweetener. All of you are complaining about things you clearly don't understand. Artificial sweeteners are very bad for you. Purvia & Truvia are processed to make it taste more like sugar but they are not changing the chemical makeup of it. The extract rebiana a (aka Reb A)that is the natural sweetener in these stevia products. I have a Stevia plant & some leaves are more bitter than others. The processing is needed to get a more consistent flavor. Let's face it it's not sugar but it is the healthiest sweetener on the planet. Stevia was banned by the FDA in the 1930's due to an anonymous tip. This was the sugar companies attempt to stay in business. The FDA took a payoff to ban it. Stevia meets all the guidelines for "GRAS" (Generally Recognized As Safe) but the FDA blocked it anyways & never gave a reason. This produce had been used for 100's of years in other countries. C'mon people do some research before ranting about what you don't understand. Wikipedia has a very good article about it.There may be some companies the will add things to the Stevia to get a different flavor but Pure stavia is very healthy & has many health benefits. Don't take my word for it. Research it yourself. If you condemn Stevia over the ignorant rants on blog pages you will be missing out on something that could benefit you for the rest of your life.

Aaron MC said...


You appear to be arguing against points that I didn't make. I never said that Stevia or Sucralose are necessarily poisonous. Truly, I said, and I quote, “I'm no conspiracy theorist and I seriously doubt this stuff is incredibly dangerous.”

The sugar companies were never accused of being behind the ban. It was the other artificial sweetener companies.

Stevia wasn't banned in the 1930's, it was banned in 1991.

To say that Stevia has been used for “hundreds of years” is wildly inaccurate. Its widespread commercial use didn't start until the 1970's, and before that, the leaves were chewed or put into tea. So while the leaves have been consumed for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, the final, refined product is quite new.

Wikipedia does have a good article. It mentions that Stevia has the potential to alter DNA, the definition of mutagenic, thus leading to its continued ban in the European Union. Meaning that, as far as safety goes, Sucralose is better. It has been confirmed as 100% safe in dozens of studies. Even here, though, the possible danger of Stevia appears to be so small as to be inconsequential.

Moreover, your claims of health benefits are barely supported by data. All of the studies showing benefits show a very weak correlation.

So, in conclusion, before you go insulting someone about his or her ignorant rant, make sure that your own rant is correctly researched.

Nancy said...


Keith said...

That's funny. I love Tropicana 50. That's all I keep in the house. Everyone loves it.

Anonymous said...

Wow. You know I just bought a thing of Trop50 Red Orange juice. Looked so yummy and it claims it has no artificial sweeteners. So I give it a try. It was HORRIBLE. First thing I think is: "This tastes like Aspartame."
It took me a few days and several (I know - I am stupid) attempts at drinking some of this stuff to finally read the ingredients. The last one listed was: Reb A.
I go: "Hmmm. I wonder what google thinks of that stuff!"
So I search on it and find out it's basically stevia. I was confused because I thought that was a good thing. I had even bought liquid stevia. Didn't think much of it one way or the other.
But then I found this site. Obviously Reb A is NOT stevia - just like Splenda is not sugar.

And you are dead on. It's amazing. It literally tastes like aspartame! Couldn't believe I was holding in my hands what you were talking about here.

Many these guys are sleazy. Shame on Tropicana!

MermaidInTheShade said...

Your review made me laugh - i spent the better part of 20 minutes today trying to find PEAR JUICE at the grocery - didnt care if it was from concentrate or not. No such animal - the closest i could come was one of the TROP 50s that includes grape juice - and i also did not notice the Reb A on the ingredient list as I had never heard of it before. $3.50 down the drain:). Not only that - but they somehow made this pear juice contain 10 mg of CAFFEINE??? Honestly - the beverage companies are way too sneaky. I'm with you 100% - natural sugar only PLEASE, and do not add any EXTRA to fruits which are already sweet. Why can't I buy pear juice???

Aaron Martin-Colby said...


Caffeine? Wow. That's weird.

I was in a similar situation years ago when I was trying to find mango nectar (I had just gotten into smoothies). It was absolutely not available anywhere near me. Thankfully, the Internetpipes had the answer!

You can probably find pear juice online in bulk. I found it at Amazon in juice boxes, but that's a rather inconvenient way to drink juice for someone over the age of five.

Keith said...

I buy pure Stevia & use it in my own drinks. I love it. I’ve been making my own soft drinks with a Soda stream & liquid stevia for about a year & it’s zero calorie sodas that do NOT taste like diet at all. I think it all comes down to how it's used. Most major brands put a lot of crap in there drinks even the ones that claim to be “Natural”. The problem isn't the Stevia. Go down to your local GNC & buy some "NuStevia" by NuNaturals. It tastes just like sugar. If you don't believe me then just try it. Pure Stevia is a natural sweetener & when prepared properly tastes like sugar with no after tastes. I tried a few bends before I found one I like. Purevia & Truvia are not the best brands of it. If you want a natural 0 calorie sweetener then try Stavia again. It’s actually very good for you. It’s the only alkaline sweetener so it can help prevent cancer. It can boost glucose tolerance. It can promote pancreas health & that is what produces insulin. This would be ideal for diabetics. Splenda, aspartame, Equal & High fructose corn syrup are very damaging to your body, cause other health issues & should be avoided. Stevia is very healthy & anyone who tries to tell you different is lying. I wouldn’t listen to someone just ranting in a blog. Get the real facts. Look up Stevia for yourself. Check Wikipedia & web MD. Look at reputable sites. Make your own decisions. If you didn’t like Tropicana50 that’s fine that doesn’t make Stevia bad. I don’t like Eggplant parmesan that doesn’t make cheese bad & not everything with sugar tastes perfect either. If you just want to wait for scientists to make a perfectly healthy 0 calorie sugar & complain about everything until then, then you will probably just die fat.

Keith said...

Vitamin water zero & Sobe Life water 0 are both Stevia. The fact that you drink the Vitamin water proves that the sweetener isn't the issue. it's the drink itself. I think everyone just focuses on bashing stevia & is really missing the point. Aron MC is almost correct, the phrase "Naturally Sweetened" means no artificial sweetener. however Sugar is natural so it can be full of calories & still say "Naturally Sweetened"

Aaron Martin-Colby said...


I think that you are one of the lucky ones. My sister-in-law absolutely cannot tell the difference between artificial sweeteners and sugar. In fact, she gets angry at my wife when she tries to secretly serve sugar-free candy and my wife is immediately "Ewww. Is this sugar-free?"

"No you can not!" her sister will respond, utterly disbelieving that the flavor of artificial sweetener is that apparent. I think that sensitivity to the bitter taste that is universal among these sweeteners is something that some lucky people simply cannot detect.

On your second point, if people do their own research, they will likely reach the same conclusion. If people want an artificial sweetener with the best safety profile, it is Splenda. I quote from Wikipedia:

"While reports emerged that found steviol and stevioside to be weak mutagens, the bulk of studies show an absence of harmful effects. In a 2008 review, 14 of 16 studies cited showed no genotoxic activity for stevioside, 11 of 15 studies showed no genotoxic activity for steviol, and no studies showed genotoxicity for rebaudioside A. No evidence for stevia constituents causing cancer or birth defects has been found."

Sounds pretty safe, but not as safe as sucralose.

"Results from over 100 animal and clinical studies in the FDA approval process unanimously indicated a lack of risk associated with sucralose intake."

Moreover, while there is a median lethal dose rating for RebA, there is not for sucralose. That said, there is also some evidence that RebA can have positive effects on the body, including the ones that you mentioned.

But I feel that this misses the point. The point about which I am angry has nothing to do with health, but marketing and taste. To me, RebA tastes like, how did I put it, oh yes, ass. Previously, ass-flavored products could be easily spotted on the shelf. With RebA being "natural," that easiness is now gone. If RebA is proven to be positively healthy, I will take a RebA pill.

Those who like sugar will not die fat. The cure for fatness is not zero-cal drinks. In fact, multiple studies have come out showing that zero-cal drinks have the opposite effect in many people, and they gain weight.

On your third point, we are not simply talking about Vitamin Water. We're also discussing Trop 50, which many of us think tastes awful.

I am confused by your fourth and final point. "Aron MC is almost correct, the phrase 'Naturally Sweetened' means no artificial sweetener. however Sugar is natural so it can be full of calories & still say 'Naturally Sweetened'" I don't quite get what you are trying to say.

Keith said...

How Pure Via™ Is Made –
A Natural Process

A pure extract of the naturally sweet stevia plant is the secret to Pure Via’s sweetness. It’s called Reb A and is the sweetest and best tasting part of the stevia plant. At Whole Earth Sweetener Co., we work in partnership with PureCircle to ensure that Pure Via is sweetened with the highest quality of this natural sweetener. And because we work with a single company to source Reb A, we are confident in the consistent quality of this important ingredient.

Pure Via only contains natural ingredients. The pure Reb A from the stevia plant that sweetens Pure Via starts with stevia leaves, which are first milled and then steeped in water using a brewing method that is similar to brewing tea. The resulting stevia extract is then further purified to separate the Reb A through a proprietary technology using ethanol. PureCircle uses ethanol, made naturally from sugar cane, and does not use methanol to purify Reb A.

Finally, Reb A, the sweetest part of the leaf, is extracted, purified and then combined with other natural ingredients to make Pure Via.