Sweeteners containing erythritol, pronounced Ah-REETH-ra-tall, in pure form or as the predominant ingredient are overwhelmingly available in the United States. Erythritol is promoted as the perfect "natural" zero-calorie sweetener, being tooth-friendly, well-tolerated in the digestive system (unlike other polyols), and offering no effect on blood sugar levels. Unlike other zero-calorie sweeteners, it provides the much-needed "bulk" to recipes. However, it is less sweet and much more expensive than table sugar and creates a cooling sensation when dissolved in our mouth.
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 150 sweeteners listed at the end of this post. To minimize the cooling effect, in some products, erythritol is blended with low-digestible sweeteners, such as polyols, rare sugars, and soluble fibers.
In this post, I answer the most frequently asked questions about erythritol in the following areas:
- production methods
- digestion & metabolism
- type of sweetener
- culinary roles
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.
Is Erythritol a Chemical?
Yes. Chemically speaking, erythritol is a type of carbohydrate called polyol.
Polyols are also known as sugar alcohols but are not sugars nor alcohols. They are carbohydrates that are partially or not digested at all. They are called low-, slow-, or non-digestible carbohydrates.
Polyols provide from 0.4 to 3 calories per gram. They are referred to as reduced-calorie sweeteners because compared to sugars – which are simple carbohydrates and contribute 4 calories per gram – they provide at least 25 percent fewer calories.
From our chemistry class, polyol means "containing many -OH groups" (hydroxyl or alcohol group). Polyols' names end in -ol such as in sorbitol, xylitol, lactitol, mannitol, maltitol, and isomaltitol.
erythritol is very unique due to the small size of its molecule.
What is Erythritol Made From?
Erythritol is found in fruits, mushrooms, and fermented foods (wine, sake, soy sauce, miso paste) but only in minuscule amounts. 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. As natural sources contain very small amounts of erythritol, production on a large scale from them is not cost-effective.
The sources used to produce erythritol is glucose obtained from corn or, in one case, fructose from apples and pears. To be produced more economically, with higher purity and more consistency, a synthetic copy of the natural erythritol is made in a laboratory. A sugar (glucose or fructose) is used as a starting material and is converted into erythritol via fermentation or an electrochemical process.
Is Erythritol Natural or Artificial?
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 is a synthetic sweetener.
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. A sugar (glucose or fructose) is converted into erythritol by fermentation or an electrochemical process.
To be produced on an industrial scale, all polyols are artificially made from natural sources (sugars). Not all polyols are found in nature, but erythritol is found in nature and is derived from a natural source. As a result, according to the Food and Drug Administration, it may be labeled as "natural." More on that in a previous post: What does a natural sweetener mean to the FDA?
Erythritol made by fermentation from corn: It starts with glucose obtained from starch. 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.
Erythritol made by an electrochemical process from corn sugar: It involves passing sugar through an electrolytic cell. The process 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.
Erythritol made by fermentation from apples and pears: This is a newer method that uses fruits that have brown spots or off colors and can't be sold in stores. The process starts by extracting fructose from apples and pears, which is then fermented. Read more about is here.
All brands, except one, are made from corn: Hoosier Hill Farm is the only brand of erythritol made in the United States from corn grown here. Get Chia is made in France from apples and pears. All remaining products are made in China from non-GMO corn. Please scroll down to the end of this post to check them out.
In all processes, the final crystalline product is an identical 99.5% pure erythritol. The chemical structure of the synthetic erythritol is exactly the same as its naturally occurring counterpart [erythritol that is intrinsic and intact in the plant]. It tastes and smells the same, and is digested and metabolized via the same pathway in the body. It is as safe for us too.
Certified organic erythritol: Organic erythritol must be sourced from a plant grown according to USDA's organic standards (National Organic Program or NOP) and have no genetically modified organisms (GMO). Read more about it here.
What is the Difference Between Granulated and Powdered Erythritol?
All forty products listed at the end of this post contain 99.5 percent pure erythritol. The difference is their crystals might be coarse or fine.
Coarse crystal is labeled as granular, granulated, or crystalline erythritol. It looks a lot like table sugar.
Fine crystal is labeled as powdered or confectioners erythritol. As the name implies, it looks a lot like powdered sugar. Fine crystals dissolve more quickly than granulated erythritol.
Erythritol's crystals are white, brilliant, odorless, and non-hygroscopic (does not readily absorb moisture from the air).
Erythritol's crystals resemble that of table sugar. That is one of the reasons it is the most commonly used filler in sugar substitutes sold in stores. Check them out here.
When erythritol crystals are dissolved in water, it results in a clear, low viscosity, and colorless solution.
Erythritol does not dissolve as quickly as table sugar. At room temperature, we can dissolve 37 g in 100 g of water or 61 percent w/w for a saturated solution.
What does Erythritol Taste Like?
Erythritol has a pleasant sweetness profile similar to table sugar (sucrose) with slight acidity and bitterness but no detectable aftertaste. Each sweetener has a specific taste profile, which means the sweetness sensation begins, peaks, and lingers differently for each sweetener. The "sweetness intensity over time" is how quickly the sweet taste is perceived (registered with our brain) and how long the taste perception lasts in our mouth. When the sweet taste subsides, what is left is called aftertaste.
Erythritol has a mild sweetness advertised as 60 to 70% as sweet as table sugar (sucrose). It means that to get the same sweetness level as table sugar, you will need to add more erythritol. Taste preference varies so, start with 1 1/3 teaspoon to replace 1 teaspoon of sugar and add more until you reach your optimum sweetness level. See the conversion chart below.
Keep in mind that the perceived sweetness of erythritol varies depending on the temperature, pH level, interaction with other ingredients, and the amount of erythritol you add. If you eat erythritol simply dissolved in water (at room temperature), expect to add 30 to 40 percent more than sugar, but if you add it to your iced tea, hot coffee, lemonade, yogurt, cereal, or fruit, you will need some experimentation to find the right sweetness.
Erythritol is less sweet than sugar, so most products in stores blend it with other sweeteners. In almost 150 products, erythritol has been blended with high-intensity sweeteners, such as stevia, monk fruit, or sucralose. Some products are as sweet as sugar. Others are up to 10 times sweeter than sugar. In all of those products, you are essentially having erythritol with just a hint of high-intensity sweeteners (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. Explore all blends here.
Erythritol in powder form creates a cooling sensation when dissolved in the mouth (the technical term is "a high negative heat of solution").
Erythritol has a cooling effect because it 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).
What are the Side Effects of Erythritol?
Despite what you heard, it does have side effects. The side effects of erythritol are a result of the way it is absorbed in our bodies.
Erythritol Goes Through a Fast & Partial Absorption in the Small Intestine: Unlike 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.
Bacteria Metabolize Erythritol in the Large Intestine: The erythritol that is not absorbed from the small intestine (10 to 40% of the amount we ingest) passes into the large intestine, where it may be fermented by microbes or excreted in feces. So, even though we cannot metabolize it, bacteria in the lower digestive tract can. The low caloric value attributed to erythritol is because microbes metabolize it, and we obtain their energy indirectly.
Gas Production and Flatulence from Erythritol: Studies concluded that the fermented erythritol results 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 bacteria in humans' gut would ferment it. True only if you ingest small amounts.
Laxation from Erythritol: 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, and nausea. 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 we eat alone in an empty stomach or excessive amounts, erythritol may cause uncomfortable effects.
The Maximum Dose of Erythritol: 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 or 5.5 tablespoons of erythritol (added to foods throughout the day) has no gastric discomfort. However, 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 a person's sensitivity and vary from person to person.
Erythritol is Not Really Calorie-free: Even though we cannot metabolize erythritol, bacteria in the large intestine can. Therefore, erythritol provides 0.4 calories per gram, 1.2 to 1.6 calories per teaspoon ( = 3g for powdered; 4g for granulated), 60 to 75 calories per cup (48 tsp; 144g to 192g). 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. Erythritol is the polyol with the lowest caloric value. To compare with other polyols: Isomalt—2.0, xylitol—2.4, maltitol—2.1, sorbitol—2.6, mannitol—1.6.
Erythritol's "Net carbs" and Glycemic Index is Equal Zero: 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. A serving or erythritol contains 4 grams of non-digestible carbohydrates, which means it offers zero "net carbs" (see image below on how to calculate it). Erythritol is often promoted with claims such as "low-carb diet friendly" and "keto" sweetener. Visit my Keto Friendly Sweetener page to learn more.
What Type of Sweetener is Erythritol?
Erythritol is a synthetic sweetener based on the method by which it is produced. The erythritol we buy in stores is in fact a "natural sweetener-like" ingredient, i.e., a synthetic copy of the erythritol found in plants.
Erythritol is a natural sweetener in the FDA's view because erythritol is derived from a natural source and is found in nature. As stated in the FDA's website, ingredients "found in nature can be manufactured artificially and produced more economically, with greater purity and more consistent quality, than their natural counterparts."
Erythritol is a bulking sweetener because it has the ability to add weight and volume (bulk) to foods, impacting mouthfeel and texture like table sugar. When making solid foods without table sugar, erythritol provides bulk to our recipe with fewer calories, but less sweetness.
Erythritol is labeled as a zero-calorie sweetener because, by law, a sweetener may be labeled calorie-free, no-calorie, or zero-calorie if it provides less than 5 cal per serving. One serving of erythritol is one teaspoon (4 grams), which provides 1.6 calories and is rounded to zero. But, one cup (48 teaspoons) provides 95 calories. In my opinion, erythritol is a reduced-calorie sweetener based on the caloric value compared to table sugar. Even though erythritol provides a low amount of calories [and significantly fewer calories than table sugar], it is less sweet than table sugar. That means we have to add more of it to achieve the same sweetening effect.
Erythritol is approved as a nutritive sweetener. According to the FDA, a nutritive ingredient adds caloric value to the foods that contain it, providing more than 2% of the calories in an equivalent amount of table sugar.
Is Erythritol Bad for your Teeth?
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. (Refer to the Federal Register here).
It appears that erythritol has some of the xylitol's anti-cavity effect, as it tends 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.
How to Use Erythritol?
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. Refer to the bright pink conversion chart above in this post.
Erythritol does not lose its sweetness in acidic conditions and even when heated above its melting point (250ºF). Table sugar, on the other hand, decomposes upon heating close to its melting point (320 - 367 ºF) and is inverted by acid. So erythritol can be used in a wide range of foods and recipes.
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.
How to use erythritol in baking?: Compared to baking with table sugar, erythritol has different melting behavior, gives in a more compact dough and less color formation. 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 be dry and hard.
Erythritol improves the taste of other sweeteners: Erythritol can enhance flavors when used in beverages and mask off-flavors (bitter, metallic, cooling, or licorice-like) of high-intensity sweeteners. Don't like the taste of pure stevia or monk fruit? Erythritol can make them taste more sugar-like.
Is Erythritol Keto? Diabetic Friendly? Vegan? Paleo? Bad for IBS? Bad for Dogs?
√ Erythritol is safe for diabetics as it has no effect on glycemic levels and insulin release.
√ Erythritol is paleo diet friendly.
√ Erythritol is low-carb and ketogenic diet friendly.
√ Erythritol is vegan and vegetarian friendly.
√ Erythritol is gluten-free.
√ Erythritol, unlike xylitol, is safe for dogs.
X Erythritol and all other low-digestible sweeteners are FODMAP carbohydrates, an acronym for Fermentable, Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides, and Polyols. The term was coined to designate the negative effects caused by those carbohydrates. FODMAPs should not be consumed by people suffering from "irritable bowel syndrome" (IBS).
How Much does Erythritol Cost?
In the United States, at the time of publishing, a pound of granulated erythritol costs from 4 to 20 dollars. We pay a much higher price than table sugar, which has an average of 0.75 cents per pound and is 30-40 percent sweeter than erythritol. Scroll down to explore all 40+ brands of granulated erythritol.
Certified organic erythritol varies from 4.5 to 12 dollars per pound. All of them are made in China from non-GMO corn. No other sweetener carries more certifications than Organic Zero from Wholesome. It is Fair Trade Certified, Organic Certified, Non-GMO Project Verified, Kosher Certified, and Keto Certified.
Save by buying large bags of erythritol, from 3 to 6 pounds, which cost around $4 a pound. Check out Microingredients and Whole Earth. Hoosier Hill Farm is the only erythritol made in the United States. Most 1-lb bags cost between $6 and $12.
Powdered erythritol dissolves faster than granulated and tends to cost more. I found less than10 brands of erythritol in powdered form. Now Real Food and SoNourished are certified organic. Organic SoNourished and conventional SoNourished powdered erythritol contain an anti-caking agent.
Is Erythritol Safe?
Since 2001, the FDA recognizes erythritol as safe. It means that when used under the intended conditions [moderate amounts that we can reasonably expect someone to consume] by most people [the general population], erythritol is safe. Erythritol is not a food additive. It has a Generally Regarded As Safe (GRAS) status. Erythritol is a relatively new sweetener that was first sold as a sweetener in Japan in the early 1990s. Today, it is approved in many countries.
The safety of erythritol was reviewed by scientific experts in the GRAS notices listed below. Manufacturers of erythritol submitted GRAS notices to the FDA and received "No Objection" letters. Erythritol is made by different microorganisms in each notice below and intended to be used as a nutritive sweetener and a flavor enhancer:
GRAS Status in 2001, Cerestar, Belgium submitted GRAS notification 76 (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 in 2019, 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." It 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 erythritol use by children.
In 2015, the EU issued a Scientific Opinion on the safety of erythritol and extended the use in beverages containing up to 1.6 % erythritol.
Food and Drug Administration Interactive Nutrition Facts Label: Sugar Alcohols.
NIH, National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information: PubChem - Open Chemistry Database.
Manufacturer of erythritol via fermentation from apples and pears, based in the Netherlands: Fooditive.
Which Brand of Erythritol is Best?
* PURE ERYTHRITOL *
(Without Any Other Sweeteners)
All products above contain 99.5% erythritol. Their chemical structure is exactly the same. It will taste the same, smell the same, and be metabolized via the same pathway in the body. So, there isn't really "the best" erythritol, but you can choose between:
Organic or non-organic
Country of origin (China, USA, France)
Source material (corn, pears & apples)
Crystal size (granulated, powdered)
Price (4 to 20 dollars per pound).
As a quick reference:
Made in China from non-GMO corn: The vast majority.
Made in the United States from corn: Hoosier Hill Farm Erythritol.
Made in France from apples and pears: Get Chia Erythritol.
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 150 sweeteners listed below.
In those products, note that we are consuming mostly erythritol with just a hint of stevia, monk fruit, or sucralose. The weight ratio between erythritol and HIS is, in some cases, 200 to 2000 (erythritol) to about 1 (HIS). It means that although 99% of the weight comes from erythritol, 70 to 99% of the sweetness comes from the HIS. Erythritol performs essential 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, fructooligosaccharides), rare sugars (xylose), and other polyols (xylitol, maltitol).
I also found erythritol combined with refined sugar. Those blends are not calorie-free. They maintain the texture, baking, and browning properties of table sugar with 25 to 75% fewer calories.
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
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
√ A zero-calorie sweetener because most of the amount we ingest is not metabolized.
√ A natural sweetener because it is "derived from a natural source" and "is found in nature".
√ Looks and tastes a lot like table sugar.
√ Non-hygroscopic (does not absorb moisture) so you can store on the table in a sugar bowl.
√ Stable at high temperatures and a wide pH range, so use anywhere table sugar is used.
√ Makes the taste of other sweeteners more "sugar-like," as it is a flavor enhancer.
√ Tooth-friendly as it does not cause tooth decay.
√ The polyol with the least negative digestive effects, such as laxation and bloating.
√ Zero glycemic index as it is not metabolized into glucose; no impact on blood sugar levels.
√ Zero "net carbs" as it offers 4 grams of non-digestible carbohydrates per serving (4 grams).
Cons of Erythritol
X Not a 1:1 sugar replacement: It is almost 30 percent less sweet than table sugar, so expect to add 1.3 times more than table sugar to get the same sweetness.
X Digestive issues: Be prepared for possible digestive discomfort if you over-consume, ingest quickly in concentrated form, or eat by itself in an empty stomach.
X Cooling sensation: The cooling effect erythritol causes when dissolved in the mouth is an undesirable distraction, but it may be a positive effect if we have it with mint flavor or beverages. This effect is an issue if we eat it by itself or sprinkle it over our foods.
X No browning: Erythritol does not undergo browning during baking and cooking. We can bake with erythritol as we would with sugar—mix it with dry ingredients or cream. It won't brown, but it will result in soft and crispy baked goods.
X Cost: Expect to pay 8 to 40 times more than table sugar—we have to consider that table sugar is sweeter so, not only is it much cheaper, we need to use less than erythritol to get the same sweetness level. To draw a comparison: the cost of erythritol varies from 4 to 20 dollars per pound, and table sugar is an average of 75 cents per pound. Powdered erythritol tends to be more expensive—quickly make your own powdered version by simply grinding granulated erythritol.
X Mixing in water: Erythritol's crystals do not dissolve quite as well as table sugar. Powdered erythritol dissolves more easily than granulated erythritol.
X Recrystallization in cold temperatures: Foods and beverages sweetened with erythritol may form crunchy crystals when refrigerated or frozen. To minimize recrystallization, use powdered erythritol instead of granulated in your recipe or just skip storage by eating it right away.
X Storage: Erythritol tends to form lumps even when we think we properly stored it in an airtight container or resealable bag. That does not mean it is unsuitable for eating. By storing erythritol in your freezer or refrigerator, you avoid clumping.
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