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Fillers or Carriers


I'm often asked why zero-calorie sweeteners have

maltodextrin, erythritol, or even sugars as ingredients.

Here's why.

Bulk Sweetener versus Bulk-Free Sweetener
  • What's a Bulk-Free Sweetener? High-intensity sweeteners, such as pure extracts of stevia and monk fruit, provide a super sweet taste with a tiny volume. They offer no bulk (weight and volume) to your recipes, and so are referred to as BULK-FREE SWEETENERS. Use them whenever sweetness is all you need—such as in hot or cold drinks, smoothies, cocktails, and sugar-free jello. They will not help thicken your foods, bind ingredients, brown or caramelize. And that's why the vast majority of the stevia and monk fruit products you'll find in stores will not be pure extract. 


  • What's a Bulk Sweetener? Whenever you need a sugar alternative that contributes not only to a sweet taste but also to texture, shelf life, moisture retention, color, and aroma—such as in baking—look for BULK SWEETENERS. For example, table sugar is a bulk sweetener, but not zero-calories. Zero-calorie alternatives typically have a mildly-sweet main ingredient such as erythritolallulosesweet fibersxylitol, or glucose/maltodextrin. They are carbohydrates that add minimal calories per serving, meeting FDA standards for zero-calorie foods because they provide <5 calories per serving.


  • Why can't anybody make a stevia without erythritol? I'm often asked, Why is stevia mixed with erythritol and other ingredients? As said before, pure leaf extracts provide a sweet taste with tiny volume and weight. A good rule of thumb is that one teaspoon of table sugar is generally equivalent to just 1/64 of a teaspoon of pure stevia. Because of that, sugar substitutes often require BULK ingredients so they can have an overall resemblance to table sugar. The basic idea is that something is needed to fill that empty space when you remove sugar. The most common bulk ingredients in products sold in stores include erythritol and allulose. They improve the taste of stevia extracts AND make it easier to measure sugar substitutes at home. Instead of having to measure or weigh minuscule amounts of product, you can use the measuring tools you have in your kitchen. Here's what erythritol offers to sugar substitutes: 

    1. make them spoonable and pourable

    2. improve their mouthfeel (body and smoothness)

    3. improve the taste by masking off-flavors

    4. provide sweetness synergy (boost sweetness).

  • Note that most stevia sweeteners in stores have just a hint of stevia, and you essentially have erythritol. Even though the label says stevia, it has a tiny pinch of leaf extract. The weight ratio between erythritol and stevia is sometimes 200 to 2000 to about 1. That means that although almost 99% of the weight comes from erythritol, 70 to 99% of the sweetness comes from the stevia extract.

Baking? Pick Bulk Sweeteners

When baking, always choose BULK SWEETENERS. A rule of thumb for baking is never to replace a bulk sweetener with another that is bulk-free. For example, you don't want to substitute 1 cup of table sugar with  teaspoons of stevia liquid or ½ teaspoon of monk fruit extract.

BULK-FREE SWEETENERS are concentrated sugar alternatives mainly used for sweetening purposes and no other culinary role. They offer zero calories and are sugar-free but super sweet, so a little goes a long way. They provide no volume and mass to recipes. No browning or caramelizing, either. Perfect for sticking them in your purse to sweeten your coffee, tea, and other beverages on the go, they're not recommended as the sole sweetener in baking. It's okay to use bulk-free sweeteners in baking recipes only to supplement the sweetness level of a bulking sweetener, such a allulose or erythritol. You can buy bulk-free sweeteners in two forms:

  1. PURE HIGH-INTENSITY SWEETENERS (powder with no additives or fillers) contain only one ingredient, such as stevia, monk fruit, sucralose, aspartame, or acesulfame K. Just a pinch will give you the same sweetness level as one teaspoon of sugar.

  2. SUGAR-FREE SWEETENERS DISPENSED IN DROPS OR SQUEEZES consist mainly of water with a tiny pinch of high-intensity sweeteners, such as stevia, monk fruit, saccharin, or sucralose. Just a few drops or a squeeze provides the same sweetness as a teaspoon of table sugar. I list all the zero-calorie drops HERE.

As part of my Sugar Swap Starter Kit, I created a Complete Guide to Bulk-Free Sweeteners:

Other Ingredients in Sugar Alternatives

A variety of ingredients may be added to sugar substitutes, such as the following:

  • What are natural flavors in the list of ingredients? Natural flavors improve the taste and mask off-flavors of sweeteners. They tend to be the last ingredient listed on the label. If you're wondering What exactly are these natural flavors? The answer is complicated because natural flavor has a broad definition, as you can see in the law here. Put simply, it means a substance derived from nature [a plant or animal source] whose function is to add flavor, not nutrients. This is the secret ingredient in most sugar alternatives, and manufacturers are not required to disclose it as long as they have their use as a flavor Generally Recognized As Safe. I've seen only rare cases where the label discloses the source, such as "natural flavors from the peel of the orange" here, here, here, and here.

  • Preservatives (sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, grapefruit extract) maintain freshness, especially in liquid sweeteners.

  • Anti-caking agents (calcium silicate aka silica) absorb water, preventing the formation of lumps, making powdered/granulated products flow easily out of their packages.

  • Binders (most common is cellulose) are used in products available in tablet form. They act like the glue that makes ingredients stick together.

What's a "natural flavor" in the list of ingredients?
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