Erythritol – sugar reduction in practice

Erythritol is a sugar alcohol that stands out from the crowd. It has virtually no calories and no effect on blood sugar. Erythritol has long been popular in beverages. But can we use it in other things too? And what do you need to be aware of? Let's explore this versatile sugar alcohol.

9 April 2020 •

Sugar reduc­tion is excit­ing but com­plex work. In an arti­cle series, we will look at some ingre­di­ents that can be used to reduce sug­ar in food. How can the ingre­di­ents be used and what should be con­sid­ered? These are ques­tions we will answer! In this arti­cle, we take a clos­er look at ery­thri­tol.

What is Erythritol?

Erythritol is a sug­ar alco­hol that is found in small amounts in some mush­rooms and algae, but also in fruits (for exam­ple water­mel­on and pears). You can find it in prod­ucts that have yeast, such as beer and cheese. Industrial-scale ery­thri­tol comes from glu­cose fermentation.

Find out more about the extrac­tion and much more in the arti­cle Erythritol – from seed to Eureba. Here we will take a clos­er look at how ery­thri­tol can be used (and should not be used) to replace sugar.

Replacing sugar with a sugar alcohol

Erythritol has about 60 to 70 per­cent of the sug­ar’s sweet­ness. It does­n’t sound exhil­a­rat­ing, but the fact is that ery­thri­tol is a very ver­sa­tile ingre­di­ent. This sug­ar alco­hol that can enhance and mask taste, it can retain mois­ture and act as bulk­ing ingre­di­ent and stabilizer.

In addi­tion, it has many oth­er benefits …

Kind to the stomach

One advan­tage of ery­thri­tol, com­pared to oth­er sug­ar alco­hols, is its small mol­e­cules. This means that ery­thri­tol is main­ly absorbed in the small intes­tine and only a frac­tion reach­es the large intes­tine. This is good as it caus­es less prob­lems with gas­es and stom­ach issues.

Usually, the gut bac­te­ria loves sug­ar alco­hol, and grat­i­tude us with gas for­ma­tion. In addi­tion, sug­ar alco­hol binds water, which can lead to loose stomach.

Because so lit­tle of ery­thri­tol reach­es the large intes­tine, most peo­ple can eat it with­out much trou­ble. Nevertheless, prod­ucts con­tain­ing more than ten per­cent ery­thri­tol must be labelled with the indi­ca­tion that exces­sive con­sump­tion can have a lax­a­tive effect.

Leaves blood sugar in peace

Although the body absorbs ery­thri­tol in the small intes­tine, noth­ing hap­pens. It does not break down but is unchanged. Therefore, ery­thri­tol has no effect on blood sug­ar lev­els what­so­ev­er. It makes ery­thri­tol an excel­lent sweet­en­er for peo­ple with ele­vat­ed sug­ar lev­els, incip­i­ent insulin resis­tance and diabetes.

Low in calories

Another advan­tage of ery­thri­tol is that it is prac­ti­cal­ly calo­rie-free. Most things are tak­en up in the small intes­tine and are thrown out unchanged. Only the lit­tle ones that end up in the large intes­tine con­tribute calo­ries when the bac­te­ria con­vert it into fat­ty acids. It gives about 0.2 kcal per gram – which is negligible.

In the nutri­tion dec­la­ra­tion, ery­thri­tol con­tributes 0 kcal, unlike all oth­er sug­ar alco­hols that con­tribute 2.4 kcal per gram. Ordinary sug­ar has a full 4 kcal per gram.

So what can ery­thri­tol be used for?

Popular in beverages

Japan and the US were ear­ly on using ery­thri­tol in bev­er­ages of var­i­ous kinds. But it took until 2015 before the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) approved ery­thri­tol in bev­er­ages. Typical appli­ca­tions are soft drinks, smooth­ies, ice tea and milk drinks.

But why is ery­thri­tol so pop­u­lar in beverages?

In fact, it is not only to pro­vide sweet­ness (although you get it too) but to soft­en the side effects that come with many high-inten­si­ty sweet­en­ers (for exam­ple, aspar­tame, ace­sul­fame K and ste­vi­ol gly­co­sides). Even in cof­fee drinks and teas, ery­thri­tol can put the side fla­vors in place and at the same time offer some sweetness.

Erythritol can also help extend the shelf life. For exam­ple, aspar­tame los­es sweet­ness after a peri­od of time, which can cause unde­sir­able side effects. With ery­thri­tol, the lost sweet­ness is com­pen­sat­ed and the after­tastes are masked.

Simply put: Sugar-reduced drinks taste bet­ter with erythritol.

But ery­thri­tol is also a good fit for oth­er foods.

Many applications

We find ery­thri­tol in ice cream, cheese and sweets.

In milk prod­ucts such as ice cream and yoghurt, ery­thri­tol can be used to reduce sug­ar and thus the calo­ries and at the same time keep the mouth feel­ing intact. But also in new niche prod­ucts such as pro­tein pud­ding. We also find ery­thri­tol in jam, mar­malade and müs­li. And ery­thri­tol and sac­cha­rin have proven to work well togeth­er in, for exam­ple, chew­ing gum, marshmallows,

…… and toothpaste!

Prevents Caries

Like all sug­ar alco­hols, ery­thri­tol is harm­less to the teeth; it does not cause caries.

But not only that – ery­thri­tol even seems to pro­tect against caries. But unlike xyl­i­tol, which is anoth­er sug­ar alco­hol that pro­tects against caries, you cant use state­ments about caries and ery­thri­tol in marketing.

Not popular everywhere

With so many good prop­er­ties, ery­thri­tol should be a can­di­date in many oth­er con­texts. But so far, the break­through for this excit­ing sug­ar alco­hol is yet to come. For exam­ple, ery­thri­tol has not yet made a suc­cess among bak­eries, although it is sta­ble in heat up to 160 degrees Celsius.

One rea­son may be that ery­thri­tol lacks some oth­er prop­er­ties that sug­ar has. For exam­ple, ery­thri­tol has no Maillard reac­tion. So if ery­thri­tol replaces sug­ar then some­thing more is need­ed to give the brown shade and myr­i­ad of fla­vors and scents. For exam­ple, inulin or poly­dex­trose can be used.

Expensive

Erythritol is expen­sive. They cost 5 to 7 times more than reg­u­lar sug­ar. It may also be an expla­na­tion for why ery­thri­tol has not had its break­through yet.

Replacing sugar with erythritol

What if we replace sug­ar with ery­thri­tol straight off?

Erythritol is endother­mic. This means that heat is tak­en from the envi­ron­ment when ery­thri­tol dis­solves in liq­uid. The result is a cool­ing effect. When you eat ery­thri­tol it sim­ply gets cold in the mouth.

That is not nec­es­sar­i­ly a prob­lem. In bev­er­ages, ery­thri­tol is already dis­solved, and there­fore it has no cool­ing effect there. And in some appli­ca­tions, such as some can­dies, cough drops and chew­ing gum, the cool­ing effect has an intrin­sic value.

But in oth­er con­texts, it is a prob­lem. It can be par­tial­ly coun­ter­act­ed with exother­mic ingre­di­ents. Thus, an ingre­di­ent that gives off heat in con­tact with liq­uid. Inulin has that property.

Another prob­lem is that ery­thri­tol is not sweet enough to replace sug­ar alone.

Cold cakes

A research arti­cle in the Journal of Food Quality describes an exper­i­ment where cakes were baked with vary­ing amounts of sug­ar replaced with ery­thri­tol. It went well up to 50 per­cent, but above that, the sweet­ness became too small and the cool­ing effect too great.

The exper­i­ment illus­trates that it is rarely a good idea to replace sug­ar straight off with ery­thri­tol. Other ingre­di­ents are also need­ed and care­ful dos­ing is required to succeed.

We ask Srdjan

We let our expert and food engi­neer Srdjan Solaja give his view on ery­thri­tol and what you should think about.

Erythritol has many positive properties, but which are the negative ones?

– I would like to say that one can expect a dis­tinct cool­ing effect. Erythritol also tends to re-crystallize,says Srdjan Solaja.

What does that mean?

– This means that you can have an unde­sir­able visu­al effect in cer­tain foods (for exam­ple in fruit prepa­ra­tions, jams and drinks) if you add too much. The end prod­uct can also be less sweet as ery­thri­tol only has 60 to 70 per­cent of the sug­ar sweetness.

Srdjan con­tin­ues:

– Just like oth­er sug­ar alco­hols, ery­thri­tol requires knowl­edge in dos­ing and cur­rent reg­u­la­tions to avoid over­dos­ing. It is rec­om­mend­ed to com­bine it with oth­er sweet­en­ers to avoid poten­tial stom­ach prob­lems, accord­ing to Srdjan Solaja.

Srdjan’s three tips

  1. Consider ery­thri­tol in prod­ucts for peo­ple with dia­betes; it does not raise blood sugar.
  2. Be care­ful with the dosage; Erythritol has a notice­able cool­ing effect in the mouth, and too much can cause stom­ach problems.
  3. Supplement with oth­er sweet­en­ers; ery­thri­tol is not sweet enough in itself.

A helping hand

If you want help reduc­ing sug­ar in your prod­uct, we can help you. Do not hes­i­tate to con­tact us.

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