Erythritol – from seed to Eureba
Product development • In nature we find the polyol erythritol in grapes, pears and melons, but also in fermented foods such as wine, cheese and beer. With 70 percent of the sweetness of sugar, but with no calories and no effect on blood sugar, erythritol is an interesting ingredient in sugar reduction. But as erythritol occurs in such small quantities in nature, it is manufactured – from wheat and yeasts.
Erythritol differs from other polyols. You can consume it without having to worry about either calories or blood sugar. And you can tolerate erythritol in larger amounts than other polyols before your stomach starts acting up. In addition, it has 70 percent of the sweetness of sugar and is similar to sugar in texture. No wonder erythritol is an interesting alternative to sugar in food, baking and beverages.
Found first in lichen
The substance erythritol was discovered in 1848 by the Scottish chemist John Stenhouse (1809−1880).
Stenhouse was interested in the medical and technological developments that were driven forward by new discoveries of chemical substances in the plant world. He created several clever and useful inventions in sugar making, dyeing, impregnation and tanning. However, he is best known for his air filters and charcoal breathing masks, which clean the air and remove odours.
In the mid-19th century, Stenhouse experimented with the lichen Roccella Montagnei from southern Africa. Through various chemical processes he succeeded in obtaining clear crystals of the substance, which were eventually named erythritol. Stenhouse describes that Pseudo-orcin, as he first called the substance, has a very sweet taste. When heated on platinum foil it burns with a blue flame and smells a bit like caramel. The substance is soluble in both water and alcohol.
Found in fermented molasses
In 1950, one hundred years after Stenhouse’s discovery of erythritol, traces of the substance were found in blackstrap molasses which had been fermented by yeast. This led to the method used today to produce erythritol.
Unlike other polyols, which are produced from sugar types by adding hydrogen, erythritol is produced by fermenting glucose.
Preparation of erythritol
Manufacturing of erythritol begins with starch from, for example, wheat, maize or potatoes.
The starch is dissolved in water, which is then heated together with acid or enzymes or both. The starch is then broken up into ever-shorter chains of glucose molecules until essentially only glucose remains.
Thus far, the process is the same as that for glucose syrup. However, to produce erythritol, yeast is added which converts glucose to erythritol by fermentation.
Many yeasts can be used. A genetically modified variant of Yarrowia lipolytica is one of the more efficient ones. With this, more than 60% of glucose can be converted to erythritol.
Improves texture and mouthfeel
Erythritol forms sugar-like crystals, with 60 to 70 percent of the sweetness of sugar, and no aftertaste.
Although it is possible to use erythritol as a sweetener on its own, it is more often used to mask unpleasant off-flavours or aftertaste from high intensive sweeteners. Erythritol also provides volume and texture, and contributes overall to a better mouthfeel.
There is only one fly in the ointment.
Cold sensation in your mouth
Erythritol is endothermic. This means that heat is taken from the surroundings when erythritol is dissolved in liquids. The result is a cooling effect. When you eat erythritol you will get a cold sensation in your mouth.
It can be compensated with an exothermic ingredient. The dietary fibre inulin is one such ingredient. This means that heat is released when inulin is dissolved in liquid. The result is a warming sensation.
Once erythritol is dissolved in liquid, no cooling effect remains. Therefore, erythritol works well in beverages, for example.
Erythritol is a polyol, and these are often associated with some less desirable properties. But erythritol is unique. It does not have the bad side effects that other polyols have.
For example, erythritol contains almost no calories. Only 0.2 kcal per gram. Other polyols may contain as much as 12 times the amount of calories. Not to mention regular sugar, which contains 20 times as much calories.
But not only does erythritol barely contain any calories. Most of the erythritol is absorbed in the small intestine and is excreted unmodified in the urine. Therefore, the calories you do get from erythritol will contribute next to nothing.
Therefore, when you count the energy content of your food, you should count 0 kcal from erythritol, unlike other polyols that you have to count 2.4 kcal.
No effect on the blood sugar
Another quality that makes erythritol unique among polyols is its effect on blood sugar. Or rather, its lack of it.
Erythritol has 0 glycemic index (GI).
The reason is of course that the body does not digest erythritol. What is taken up in the small intestine is passed right through. What reaches the colon continues on out.
Erythritol is thus an excellent sweetener for people with diabetes.
Easier on the stomach
In general, even small amounts of polyol will have an effect on your stomach. Therefore, products containing more than ten percent polyols must be labelled with a warning that excessive consumption may have a laxative effect.
Products with erythritol must also be labelled. But unlike sorbitol, xylitol and maltitol, for example, erythritol has a much smaller effect on the stomach. This is because most of it has already been absorbed in the small intestine to be passed out with urine.
Less than ten percent of erythritol finds its way to the large intestine and may be laxative. Because the amount is so small, it won’t have the same negative effects as you may get from other polyols.
So, even when it comes to the effects on your stomach, erythritol is better than other polyols.
No tooth decay
But one characteristic that erythritol shares with other sugar schools is that it is not cariogenic. Polyols do not cause cavities.
Quite the opposite, some polyols can counteract cavities. Most well-known is xylitol. But erythritol also seems to have the same positive effect. Erythritol is therefore well suited for chewing gum and throat lozenges.
Research is ongoing
Much has been done to find and develop yeast that ferment glucose to erythritol more quickly and to a greater extent. But erythritol is still relatively expensive to produce. Therefore, research is ongoing to find even more efficient ways. Researchers are mainly looking at two different options.
One option aims to find bacteria, filamentous fungi and other organisms that can produce erythritol. The hope is this will make it possible to optimise production and yield.
The second option uses metabolic engineering to modify genes of yeasts so that they can convert other, cheaper, raw materials than glucose into erythritol and/or make it more efficiently.
Erythritol in Eureba
Erythritol, with its many, and good, properties, is always on our short list of possible ingredients to be included in sweetened fibres, which we develop and market under the trademark Eureba.
Sweetened fibres are a homogeneous composition of dietary fibre, high intensive sweetener and other ingredients. One kilo of sweetened fibres replaces one kilo of regular sugar in recipes without having to alter your production. The purpose is to reduce calories and the effect on blood sugar without changing taste, mouthfeel and texture.
In sweetened fibres, erythritol can be used to mask the licorice-like aftertaste of steviol glycosides, which is the high intensive sweetener we usually use. Erythritol can also be used as bulk and to provide the right texture.
Do you want to know more?
You may be interested in learning more about Eureba. For example, if we have a ready-made solution for your specific needs. (It’s quite likely. If not, we will produce one for you.) Please, don’t hesitate to contact us. We would be happy to answer your questions. Give us a ring on +46 8 613 28 88 or send an e‑mail to email@example.com.
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