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, so none of the natural sources are used to produce the store-bought erythritol. 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 store-bought erythritol is made from corn or, in one case, from apples and pears. Those sources are used because they produce erythritol more economically, with higher purity and more consistency. The production process starts by converting them into a sugar (glucose or fructose) and then to erythritol.
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 over 99.5 percent pure erythritol, no matter where they come from. 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. It is the most commonly used filler in sugar substitutes sold in stores.
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.
The crystals are white, brilliant, odorless, and non-hygroscopic (don't readily absorb moisture from the air).