Sweeteners containing erythritol, pronounced Ah-REETH-ra-tall, in pure form or as the predominant ingredient are overwhelmingly available in the United States. Promoted as a zero calorie sweetener (1.6 cal/teaspoon), erythritol is 30 percent less sweet than table sugar, tooth friendly, well tolerated in the digestive system (unlike other polyols), and does not raise blood sugar levels.
On my quest to discover all sweeteners containing erythritol, I found that most products combine it with high intensity sweeteners to compensate for the reduced sweetness. Stevia, monk fruit, or sucralose are used in half of the almost 100 sweeteners listed at the end of this post, taking advantage of erythritol'ls bulking properties. In order to minimize the cooling effect erythritol causes when dissolved in the mouth, in some products it is blended with low-digestible sweeteners such as polyols, rare sugars, and soluble fibers.
This blog post lists sixty facts about erythritol in the following areas:
- production methods
- digestion & metabolism
- type of sweetener
- culinary roles
- special diets
There is A LOT of information here. Scroll down to explore it all or, if you are short on time, refer to the pros & cons at the end of this post. Visit my Erythritol Page here.
Erythritol is a polyol. Polyols are also known as sugar alcohols but are not sugars nor alcohols. Being partially or not digested at all, they are low-, slow-, or non-digestible carbohydrates.
Unlike sugars, which are simple carbohydrates and contribute 4 calories per gram, polyols provide from 0.4 to 3 calories per gram, and so, are referred here in this blog as reduced calorie sweeteners.
From your chemistry class, polyol means "containing many -OH groups" (hydroxyl or alcohol group). Polyols names end in -itol such as in sorbitol, xylitol, lactitol, mannitol, maltitol, and isomaltitol.
erythritol is very unique due to the small size of its molecule.
Erythritol is widely promoted as a natural sweetener for being found in nature but it is in fact a synthetic sweetener. A sweetener that does not occur in the plant from which it is manufactured, and so is not directly isolated or extracted from a plant, is a synthetic sweetener.
As natural sources contain very small amounts of erythritol, production in large scale from them is not cost-effective. Erythritol is found in some fruits, mushrooms, and some fermented foods (wine, sake, soy sauce, miso paste). The erythritol content in one pound of melons, grapes, or pears is less than 0.02 grams. A quart of wine and sake has about 0.3 grams and 1.5 grams, respectively.
To be produced more economically, with greater purity and more consistency, a synthetic copy of the natural erythritol is made in a laboratory via fermentation or electrochemically. It is pertinent to say that plants or parts of a plant are used as starting material, but as said before, erythritol is not found in the source from which it is manufactured The source used to produce erythritol is glucose, which is often obtained from corn.
NOTE: Natural versus Synthetic Sweetener
In the mind of many shoppers, the term 'natural' in labels of sweeteners implies that the sweetener is not synthetic. Be aware that sweeteners carrying the 'natural' claim may be highly refined and processed, and even synthetic-copies of natural compounds. In FDA's view, processing, refining, and synthesis (enzymology) do not affect the natural character of a sweetener but, to the general public, it often does. There is an increased awareness of where sweeteners come from. Read more about synthetic versus natural sweetener on previous blog posts titled: Natural Sweetener: Not What You Might Think and 5 Misconceptions About Natural Sweeteners.
To be produced in an industrial scale, all polyols are synthetically made from a natural source (sugars) but not all polyols are found in nature. Erythritol is found in nature and is derived from a natural source. As a result, it may be labeled as 'natural'. More on that in a previous post: What does a natural sweetener mean to the FDA?
Erythritol is not directly isolated or extracted from a plant. It is obtained through processes that chemically change or break down components of the starting material. Erythritol is produced by fermentation or an electrochemical process. Sugar (glucose) is converted into erythritol during these processes.
The electrochemical process involves passing a sugar through an electrolytic cell, and is claimed to cost less, be more efficient, faster, and powered with green, sustainable energy. Find the description of this process here. According to the producer, the fermentation method can take several days, but their method takes less than one hour and produces little to no waste.
The fermentation process starts with glucose obtained from cornstarch. The steps can be seen here. Cornstarch is first converted to liquefied starch and then broken down into glucose through the use of enzymes. Glucose is fermented using microorganisms such as Aureobasidium or Moniliella sp. Genetically engineered yeasts may be used. A top erythritol producer in the U.S. claims to use a yeast found in nature.
In both processes, the final crystalline product is 99.5% pure erythritol. The chemical structure of the synthetic erythritol is exactly the same as its naturally occurring (intrinsic; intact in the plant) counterpart. It tastes and smells the same, and is digested and metabolized via the same pathway in the body. It is also as safe for you.
Five certified organic erythritol sweeteners are available on store shelves. The brands are Anthony's, Micro Ingredients, NOW, NOW Confectioner's, and Wholesome. Organic sweeteners must be sourced from a plant grown according to USDA's organic standards (National Organic Program or NOP) and no genetic modified organisms may be used.
Hoosier Hill Farm is the only brand of erythritol made in the United States from corn grown here. All remaining products are made in China from non-GMO corn. Scroll down to the end of this post to check them out.
A powder with white, brilliant, odorless, and non-hygroscopic (does not readily absorb moisture from the air) crystals
As its appearance and crystals resembles that of table sugar, it is one of the most used fillers in tabletop sweeteners
Available in powdered and granulated forms; powdered has finer crystals and dissolves faster
When erythritol crystals are dissolved in water, result in a clear, low viscosity, and colorless solution.
Erythritol has a pleasant and mild sweet taste. The sweetness profile is similar to table sugar (sucrose) with a slight acidity and bitterness but no detectable aftertaste
Erythritol eaten in powder form creates a cooling sensation when dissolved in the mouth (a high negative heat of solution)
The reason for this so-called cooling effect is erythritol absorbs energy from its surrounding (your mouth) as it dissolves, and you feel like sucking a mint
To counter the strong cooling, erythritol is blended with high intensity sweeteners or other bulking sweeteners (xylitol, inulin)
Erythritol has a mild sweetness, advertised as being 60 to 70% as sweet as table sugart (sucrose). It means that, when compared to table sugar dissolved in water (10% w/v), erythritol is about thirty percent less sweet
It is important for you to know that the degree of sweetness you taste vary with factors such as temperature, pH level, and presence of other ingredients or foods you consume with erythritol
If you eat erythritol simply dissolved in water (at room temperature), expect to add 30 to 40% more than sugar, but if you add it to your cold yogurt, hot coffee, or keto bomb, you will need some experimentation to find the right sweetness
I found 30 sweeteners with erythritol being the sole ingredient, all of them are less sweet than table sugar. In about 70 products, erythritol has been blended with either stevia, monk fruit, or sucralose to result in products as sweet as sugar or up to 10 x sweeter.
Note that in most blends you are essentially having erythritol with a hint of high intensity sweetener (HIS). The weight ratio in some sweeteners is 200 to 2000 (erythritol) to about 1 (HIS), which means that although 99% of the weight comes from erythritol, 70 to 99% of the sweetness comes from the high intensity sweetener.
Digestion & Metabolism
Fast & Partial Absortion In The Small Intestine: As opposed to other commonly available polyols, erythritol is a very small molecule, which is quickly absorbed in the small intestine into the bloodstream. About 60 to 90 % of ingested erythritol is absorbed and is not metabolized. The kidneys remove erythritol from the bloodstream and it is excreted unchanged, without any decomposition, in the urine. Consumption of erythritol with foods slows down the absorption.
Metabolized by Bacteria In The Large Intestine: The erythritol that is not absorbed from the small intestine (10 to 40% you ingest) passes into the large intestine, where it may be fermented by microbes or excreted in feces. So, even though we cannot metabolize it, microbes in the lower digestive tract can. The low caloric value attributed to erythritol is because it is metabolized by microbes, and we obtain their energy indirectly.
Gas Production & Flatulence: Studies concluded that the fermented erythritol result in the production of gases (such as methane and carbon dioxide), which are absorbed and contribute energy. The authors attributed the caloric value of 0.4 calories per gram, i.e., 1.2 to 1.6 calories per teaspoon ( = 3g for powdered; 4g for granulated). Nevertheless, according to a study, gas production from erythritol is negligible and it is very unlikely that it would be fermented by bacteria in humans. True only if you ingest small amounts.
Laxation: When erythritol enters the large intestine, which happens quickly after ingestion, it may act osmotically by drawing water from the body, causing loose stools or diarrhea. However, erythritol is advertised as being the only polyol that does not cause laxation, bloating, cramps, or flatulence at normal consumption levels, because only small amounts reach the large intestine. Be aware that if eaten alone in empty stomach or in excessive amount, it often causes uncomfortable effects. Share your experience in the comments.
The Maximum Dose: Daily consumption of up to 1 gram per kg (0,45 g per lb) of body weight is well tolerated when incorporated into foods. It means that a 150-lb person eating up to 68 g of erythritol (added to foods throughout the day) has no gastric discomfort, although the same and lower doses consumed by simply dissolving it in water or in dry form after fasting might result in laxation. These symptoms depend on the person's sensitivity, and vary from person to person.
Erythritol is not really calorie free but has the lowest caloric value of all polyols. Since erythritol's caloric value per gram is very low (0.4 cal/g, < 10% that of table sugar), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations for nutrition labels rounded it to zero cal/g. To compare with other polyols: Isomalt—2.0, lactitol—2.0 , xylitol—2.4 , maltitol—2.1 , sorbitol—2.6 , hydrogenated starch hydrolysates—3.0, mannitol—1.6. Keep in mind that a cup (48 tsp or 192g) of granulted erythritol has about 75 calories.
Zero 'net carbs' and glycemic index: Even though erythritol is a carbohydrate, it is not metabolized into glucose and, as a result, it has a glycemic index* of zero and does not impact insulin levels of the body; it is often promoted with claims such as "low-carb diet friendly" and "zero net carbs"
* NOTE: Glycemic Index of a Sweetener
Is the potential of a sweetener to increase blood glucose. Sweeteners containing carbohydrates that break down quickly during digestion have high glycemic index (GI) while those that break down slowly and release glucose slowly in the bloodstream have low GI. From the University of Sidney Glycemic Index database, table sugar (sucrose) has a GI of 67, glucose has a 96, coconut sugar has a 54, but polyols have a low GI (isomaltulose = 32, lactitol = 3, xylitol = 7, maltitol = 26). Erythritol is not metabolized into glucose and so has a GI = 0.
Type of sweetener
It is a synthetic sweetener based on the method by which it is produced. Erythritol is derived from a natural source and is found in nature but, to be produced in large scale, in a cost-effective way, with greater purity and more consistency, a synthetic copy of the natural erythritol is made in a laboratory via fermentation and electrochemically. These processes chemically change or break down components of the starting material (source from which it is manufactured has no erythritol)
It is a bulking sweetener based on the ability to add weight and volume (bulk) to foods, impacting mouthfeel and texture, like table sugar does - namely bulking property. When you are preparing solid foods without sugar, erythritol is a good substitute that provides bulk to your recipe with fewer calories but less sweetness than table sugar. High intensity sweeteners have no bulking properties.
It is a reduced calorie sweetener based on the caloric value compared to table sugar. Even though it provides a low amount of calories, since erythritol is less sweet than table sugar, you have to add more of it to achieve the same sweetening effect. As opposed to high intensity sweeteners, which are hundreds of times sweeter than table sugar, so only small amounts are needed to achieve the same sweetening effect of table sugar.
It is approved as a nutritive sweetener, which according to the Food and Drug Administration means a sweetener that adds caloric value to the foods that contain it, providing more than 2% of the calories in an equivalent amount of table sugar. Check out other uses for erythritol listed in the Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) notices here, here, here, and here. Read more on erythritol's GRAS status later in this post.
It is a natural sweetener in FDA's view, because erythritol is derived from a natural source and is found in nature. As stated in FDA's website, sweeteners ‘found in nature can be manufactured artificially and produced more economically, with greater purity and more consistent quality, than their natural counterparts’. The erythritol you buy in stores is in fact a ‘natural sweetener-like’ ingredient, i.e, is a synthetic copy of the erythritol found in plants, and so it is often referred to as naturally-occurring sweetener. Read more on two previous posts titled Natural Sweetener: Not What You Might Think and 5 Misconception About Natural Sweeteners.
Erythritol is non-cariogenic as it cannot be fermented by bacteria that cause cavities. Erythritol's label may carry health claims approved by the FDA such as "does not promote," "may reduce the risk of," "useful in not promoting" dental caries. (see in the Federal Register here)
It appears that erythritol has some of xylitol's anti-cavity effect, as it has a tendency to starve harmful mouth bacteria (Streptococcus mutans) by inhibiting their growth and activity; it has been suggested that over time use decrease dental plaque, and reduce the overall number of dental caries.
When replacing table sugar by pure erythritol, remember it is 30 to 40% less sweet than table sugar, therefore it is recommended to use 1 1/2 or 1 1/3 cups of erythritol to replace one cup of sugar.
Erythritol does not lose its sweetness in acidic conditions and even when heated above its melting point (250ºF). As opposed to table sugar, which decomposes upon heating close to its melting point (320 - 367 ºF) and is inverted by acid.
Erythritol does not undergo browning reactions during food preparation and baking like table sugar components do (glucose & fructose). As a polyol, erythritol does not contain the C=O group, called carbonyl, necessary for browning.
Baking with erythritol: Compared to baking with table sugar, erythritol has different melting behavior, more compact dough, and less color formation. Remember that, unlike table sugar, polyols do not react with yeast and will not help with dough rise. Baked goods made with excessive amounts of erythritol, such as more than 20% of the recipe's contents, may turn out to be dry and hard. In that case, it is recommended to blend erythritol with another bulking sweetener.
Dissolving erythritol: It dissolves in water (at room temperature, 37 g in 100 g of water; 61% w/w for a saturated solution) but not as easily as table sugar. It is sold in granulated (coarser crystals) and powdered form. Most products are in granulated form and look a lot like regular table sugar. The powdered form is easier to dissolve but, if you bought the granulated, you can pulse it in a food processor or coffee grinder till a 'powdered sugar-like'.
Improves the taste of other sweeteners: it has the ability to a enhance flavor when used in beverages and mask off-flavors of high intensity sweeteners such as bitter, metallic, cooling, or liquorice-like flavors. Erythritol is able to make stevia and monk fruit extracts be more sugar-like.
Safe for diabetics as it has no effect on glycemic levels and insulin release
Paleo diet friendly
Low-carb and ketogenic diet friendly
Vegan and vegetarian friendly
* NOTE: What Are Free Radicals?
Are very unstable chemicals generated in our body that react with and damage different parts of the cell, and different organs in the body. This damage is called 'oxidative' because is usually originated in essential reactions that involve oxygen. Our body uses antioxidant molecules, which react with free radicals before they cause damage. Antioxidants (aka free radical scavengers) are chemicals that protect our health and help regenerate other protective molecules. Plants contain a variety of antioxidants, such as pigments (carotenoid in carrots; lycopene in tomatoes) and phenolic compounds.
In the United States, at the time of publishing, the cost of a pound of pure erythritol varies from $5 to $32, a much higher price than refined sugar (average of $1 per pound and 30-40% sweeter than eryhtritol). Scroll down to explore them all.
Large bags of erythritol, 3- to 6-lb, cost less than $5 a pound. Check out Microingredients, and Whole Earth. Try Hoosier Hill Farm, which is the only erythritol made in the United States. Most 1-lb bags cost between $9 and $12.
Organic eryhtritol also varies from $9 to $12 per pound. All of them are made in China from non-GMO corn. Organic Zero from Wholesome is Fair Trade Certified, Organic Certified, Non-GMO Project Verified, Kosher Certified, and Keto Certified
Powdered erythritol dissolves faster than granulated and tend to cost more. Only 8 products are available in powdered form: Now Real Food (Organic), Zsweet , Hoosier Hill Farm, So Nourished, Anthony's, LC Low Carb, Smart138, and It's Just. So Nourished contains an anti-caking agent.
Erythritol is a relatively new sweetener being first sold as a tabletop sweetener in Japan in the early 1990s. Today, it is approved in many countries. Since 2001, erythritol has been recognized by the FDA as safe, under conditions of its intended use, through four self-determined GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe) notices.
The safety of erythritol was reviewed by scientific experts in the notices listed below, which were submitted by erythritol producers to the FDA and received 'No Objection' letters. Erythritol is manufactured by different microorganisms in each notice and is intended to be used as a nutritive sweetener (add caloric value to the foods that contain it) and a flavor enhancer, among others uses.
GRAS Status in 2001, Cerestar, Belgium (submitted GRAS notification 76 or GRN No. 76)
GRAS Status in 2007, Mitsubishi Kagaku-Foods Corporation, Japan (GRN No. 208)
GRAS Status in 2011, Baolingbao Biology, China (GRN No. 382)
GRAS Status in 2012, O'Laughlin Biotechnology, China (GRN No. 401)
GRAS Status Pending in 2018 to Cargill, New Mexico, USA (GRN No. 789)
In 2000, a safety review of erythritol was issued by an international expert committee administered jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO). The Joint is also referred to as JECFA or Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additive. See the full report here.
In 2003, the European Union (EU) Scientific Committee on Food (SCF) issued the 'Opinion of the Scientific Committee on Food on Erythritol' and concluded that erythritol is safe for use in foods, but not in beverages.
In 2010, the EU Food Safety Authority issued a Scientific Opinion evaluating the limits of use of erythritol by children.
In 2015, the EU issued a Scientific Opinion on the safety of use of erythritol and extented the use in beverages containing up to 1.6 % erythritol.
Food and Drug Administration Fact Sheet: Sugar Alcohols
NIH, National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information: PubChem - Open Chemistry Database
Manufacturer of Erythritol, eletrochemically, from sugar (usually corn), Washington: Dynamic Food Ingredients (DFI) Corporation - website
* PURE ERYTHRITOL *
(Without Any Other Sweeteners)
The products abovecontain 99.5% erythritol. Their crystals may be coarse or fine. Coarse crystals look like regular table sugar, and are labeled with terms such as granular, granulated, or crystalline. Finer crystals are labeled as powdered or confectioners because, as the name implies, look a lot like powdered sugar. Powdered erythritol dissolves more easily than the granulated, but you can make it yourself by pulsing granulated erythritol in a food processor or coffee grinder.
Visit Erythritol Page here
* ERYTHRITOL BLENDS *
Erythritol is less sweet than table sugar therefore, to compensate for that, it is usually combined with high intensity sweeteners (HIS) such as stevia, monk fruit, or sucralose. Erythritol is the predominant ingredient in almost 70 sweeteners listed below.
I want you to be aware that in these products you are consuming essentially straight erythritol with a hint of stevia, monk fruit, or sucralose. The weight ratio between eryhtritol and HIS is in some cases 200 to 2000 (erythritol) to about 1 (HIS), which means that although 99% of the weight comes from erythritol, 70 to 99% of the sweetness comes from the HIS. Erythritol performs important roles such as make the product spoonable or pourable, and improve the taste of other sweeteners, by masking off-flavors (any non-sweet taste and aftertaste).
Erythritol is also blended with low-digestible carbohydrates such as soluble fibers (inulin, fructoligosacchrarides aka FOS), rare sugars (xylose), and other polyols (xylitol, maltitol). Baking blends are available by combining erythritol with refined sugar, which are not calorie free. The advantage of these baking blends is they provide 25 to 75% fewer calories and maintain the texture, baking, and browning properties of pure refined sugar.
1) STEVIA BLENDS | AS SWEET AS SUGAR
* Measure like sugar on a one to one ratio*
Visit Stevia Page here
2) STEVIA BLENDS | SWEETER THAN SUGAR
Visit Stevia Page here
3) MONK FRUIT BLENDS
Visit Monk Fruit Page here
4) SUCRALOSE BLENDS
Explore Artificial Sweeteners here
5) BLENDS WITH LOW-DIGESTIBLE SWEETENERS
Explore Low-Digestible Sweeteners here
7) BLENDS WITH SUGARS
* Not Calorie Free*
Explore Sugar Blends here
Pros of Erythritol
It really looks and tastes a lot like table sugar
Is non-hygroscopic (does not absorb moisture), so you can store on the table in a sugar bowl
Tooth-friendly as does not cause tooth decay
Stable at high temperatures and at a wide pH range
Used as a flavor enhancer, it can make the taste of other sweeteners be more sugar-like
Cons of Erythritol
It is almost 30% less sweet than table sugar, so you should expect to add more than table sugar to get the same sweetness
Possible digestive discomfort if you over-consume, ingest quickly in concentrated form, or eat by itself in an empty stomach
You will probably find that the cooling effect it causes when dissolved in the mouth is an undesirable distraction, but it may be a positive effect (i.e, with mint flavor or beverages)
Does not undergo browning during baking and cooking, which can be a useful property in same cases as it resists discoloration
Expect to pay 5 to 32x more than a pound of table sugar; get a better price by buying large bags of erythritol; powdered erythritol tend to be more expensive than in granulated form
It does not dissolve as easily as table sugar; powdered erythritol dissolves more easily than granulated, but you can make it yourself by grinding granulated erythritol
Foods or beverages sweetened with erythritol may form crunchy crystals when refrigerated or frozen.
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