Erythritol as a Sweetener
As I’ve mentioned in some earlier posts, I’ve started to use erythritol as a sweetener in those recipes where the aftertaste of an artificial sugar such as Splenda would affect the flavour. I use it sparingly because erythritol is more expensive than sugar and Splenda.
We have access to two brands of pure erythritol in Canada: Now Foods and Organic Zero. (Erythritol is also found in the sweetener brand, Truvia; however, it is mixed with stevia which I do not discuss here.)
So…what is erythritol? Here is what I’ve found out through research.*
- Erythritol is a sugar alcohol from a family of sweetening agents also known as “polyols” that includes xylitol, mannitol, lactitol, and sorbitol. These polyols occur naturally in small amounts in fruits and vegetables. Apparently, the only reason these sugars are called “sugar alcohols” is because the molecular structure resembles that of regular alcohol.
- Erythritol can be found in mushrooms, fruits such as pears, melons and grapes, and fermentation-derived foods such as wine, soy sauce, and cheese.
- Erythritol, when developed as a sweetener, is not considered artificial because it is made through the fermentation of the sugars found naturally in corn.
- Erythritol has the bulk, look, and texture of refined white sugar, but it is only 60–70% as sweet.
- Erythritol has been approved for use as a food additive in Canada, the United States, and throughout much of the world.
BENEFITS OF ERYTHRITOL
Virtually non-caloric: Erythritol has a caloric value of 0.2 kilocalories per gram (95% less than sugar and other carbohydrates). Under labelling regulations in Canada and the United States, it is able to be listed as having 0 calories.
Non-glycemic: Erythritol does not raise blood sugar (plasma glucose or insulin levels); this makes it suitable for people who are diabetic or prediabetic.
More digestable than the other sugar alcohols: More than 90% of erythritol is absorbed in the small intestine so minimal amounts reach the large intestine. It is in this part of the digestive tract where other sugar alcohols cause diarrhea, bloating, gas, and rumbling.
Does not cause tooth decay: Erythritol, like other polyols, is resistant to metabolism by oral bacteria which break down sugars and starches to produce acids which may lead to tooth enamel loss and cavity formation.
PROBLEMS OF ERYTHRITOL
Difficulties when used in baking: Sugar melts at 366° F; erythritol, at 250° F. This means that you will not be able to use erythritol for most baked products, such as cakes, cookies, and pies, that cook at high temperatures. I learned this the hard way while trying to make GF angel food cake with erythritol. At 350° F, a temperature that sugar would handle with ease, the erythritol boiled, bubbled over, and burnt my pan and stove.
Individual tolerance varies: Although erythritol is more digestable than the other sugar alcohols, every person has a different level of sensitivity. Some sources suggest that it shouldn’t be used by people with irritable bowel syndrome. Since I have this condition but handle erythritol well, I suggest trying a small amount to see whether you will tolerate it.
Excessive consumption: The digestability of erythritol may be affected by the amount consumed at any one time. If it is eaten in a quantity beyond one’s individual tolerance, it can cause diarrhea.
Long-term safety: Erythritol has not been sold to the public as a sweetener until recently, and its use has a sweetener has not be studied in any intensive way. It is going to take years to discover the long-term effects of erythritol, if there are any.