Ideal ingredient calling card: erythritol

Ideal ingredient calling card: erythritol

Everything you need to know about the alternative sweetener erythritol, commonly used to mask the off-flavors of stevia, but also known for its non-glycemic load.

Erythritol (2R,3S)-butane-1,2,3,4-tetraol

What it is

  • A natural sugar alcohol (or polyol); the only polyol with zero calories in the U.S.
  • Discovered in 1848 by British chemist John Stenhouse
  • Industrially produced by fermentation of glucose by a yeast (Moniliella pollinis)
  • Clean, sweet taste similar to sugar, with no aftertaste
  • Is about 70% as sweet as table sugar but a caloric value of only 0.2 kcal/g

Where it's found

  • Occurs naturally in fruits such as grapes, melons and pears, in grasses, and in algae, mushrooms, and lichens
  • Is formed naturally in fermented foods such as wine, beer, sake, soy sauce
  • Naturally occurs in human and animal tissue
  • Leading brands in the U.S. and Europe: ERYLITE (Jungbunzlauer) and ZEROSE (Cargill)

Food or medicine?

  • A non-immunogenic food valued because it is non-glycemic and non-insulinemic
  • A four-carbon polyol that is relatively new and commercially produced for the food industry only recently

Manufacturing constraints

  • Geographical disparity in labeling policies: 0 kcal/g in Japan, U.S., Europe and Mexico; 0.2kcal/g in Canada
  • Endothermic dissolution creates strong cooling effect that is often distracting in some flavors and foods
  • Cooling effect and crystallization deter formulating with solid fats: chocolates, brownies, and frostings
  • Non-hygroscopicity tends to dry out baked goods
  • Cost and availability often cited as obstacles by product formulators
  • Laxative warning is mandatory in Europe for erythritol if used in concentrations higher than 10%

Market drivers

  • Growing consumer preference for natural sweeteners that are also non-glycemic and low in calories
  • Consumers WANT something sweet but without too much of a penalty
  • Growing consumer demand for less sweet foods and beverages
  • Advances in sweetener/flavor technologies – taking advantage of erythritol’s masking properties
  • Rising incidence of diabetes and obesity and the avoidance of glycemic sweeteners and calories
  • Popular with formulators because it is heat stable and handles like sugar

Physiological effects

  • Absorbed into the bloodstream in the small intestine before it enters the large intestine
  • Excreted largely unchanged in the urine
  • Highest digestive tolerance of all polyols; laxative effect sets in only when exceeding the body's natural absorption threshold
  • Not digested by intestinal bacteria; therefore does not cause gas or bloating
  • Tooth-friendly since it is not metabolized by oral bacteria
  • The human body "knows" erythritol; allergies are not probable

Surprising fact: It's not its non-glycemic or high digestive tolerance attributes, but its ability to mask off-flavors of stevia that makes it popular with product formulators.

Resource: I. C. Munro, W. O. Bernt, J. F. Borzelleca, G. Flamm, B. S. Lynch, E. Kennepohl, E. A. Bäre and J. Modderman. Erythritol: an interpretive summary of biochemical, metabolic, toxicological and clinical data, Food and Chemical Toxicology, Volume 36, Issue 12, December 1998, Pages 1139-1174

Kantha Shelke, Ph.D.  Kantha Shelke is a principal at Corvus Blue LLC, a Chicago-based food science and nutrition firm that specializes in competitive intelligence and expert witness services. Contact her at [email protected] or 312-951-5810.

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