Sorbitol – sugar reduction in practice

Sorbitol is something of a classic in sugar reduction. It is a sugar alcohol with a pleasant sweet taste, near negligible influence on blood sugar level and several excellent food-technical properties. But like other sugar alcohols, the sweetness is not in par with the sugar, and too much of the good will upset your stomach. So how can you use sorbitol to replace sugar? Let’s take a closer look.

5 June 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 foods. How can the ingre­di­ents be used, and what should be con­sid­ered? These are ques­tions we should answer! In this arti­cle, we take a clos­er look at sor­bitol.

What is sorbitol?

Sorbitol is a sug­ar alco­hol that is formed when the mono­sac­cha­ride glu­cose gets com­pa­ny by two hydro­gen atoms. It’s accom­plished by hydrol­y­sis. Glucose is pro­duced from starch that comes from pota­toes, corn, wheat or any crop that is rich in starch.

We also find sor­bitol in nature. For exam­ple, dif­fer­ent kinds of berries and fruits such as plums, pears, straw­ber­ries and rasp­ber­ries. And rowan berries. It is from the Latin term for rowan berries – Sorbus aucu­paria – that sor­bitol got its name.

Read more about sor­bitol and how it is pro­duced in Sorbitol – from seeds to Eureba. Let’s move on with sor­bitol as an ingre­di­ent and how it can be used in practice.

Sorbitol instead of sugar?

Sorbitol has 50 to 60 per cent of the sweet­ness of sug­ar. That’s one rea­son why it’s chal­leng­ing to replace sug­ar only with sor­bitol. For the same amount of sweet­ness as sug­ar, twice as much sor­bitol is needed.

It’s sel­dom fea­si­ble to replace sug­ar with twice the amount of sor­bitol. The main prob­lem is not the dou­bled vol­ume and weight, but a less pleas­ant expe­ri­ence from the gas­tric region that too much sor­bitol can cause. No oth­er sug­ar alco­hol, allowed in foods, is as lax­a­tive as sor­bitol. You can use almost twice as much of oth­er sug­ar alco­hols, and close to four times as much of ery­thri­tol before it becomes a problem.

But sor­bitol has a few oth­er prop­er­ties that make it pop­u­lar for sug­ar reduction.

Low GI

For starters, sor­bitol has almost no effect on the blood sug­ar lev­el. Sorbitol is, how­ev­er, not best in class. First place goes to ery­thri­tol, which has no effect at all. But sor­bitol is pret­ty decent; its gly­caemic index (GI) is six with white bread as a ref­er­ence (GI 100).

Functional properties

Sorbitol is a hygro­scop­ic sug­ar alco­hol. That is, it can absorb mois­ture from the sur­round­ings. Thus, sor­bitol is not only a sweet­en­ing agent but also a humec­tant ingre­di­ent. Sorbitol attracts and releas­es mois­ture at a very slow pace.

The slow change in the degree of mois­ture pro­tects the food and con­tributes in that way to extend­ed shelf life. It also helps to main­tain prop­er tex­ture and that the food does get dry, which oth­er­wise can result in an unwant­ed mouth­feel.

Thanks to these prop­er­ties, we find sor­bitol in sauce, ice cream, jam, mar­malade, cere­als, baked goods and var­i­ous forms of desserts.

Stable ingredient

Sorbitol is a tough oppo­nent for mouth bac­te­ria. The oral bac­te­ria can­not break down sor­bitol (just like oth­er sug­ar alco­hols), thus pre­vent­ing acid attacks and caries.

A hot oven is not a prob­lem either. Sorbitol is heat resistant.


Sorbitol is endother­mic. This means that heat is tak­en from the sur­round­ings when sor­bitol is dis­solved in liq­uids. The result is a cool­ing effect. When you eat sor­bitol, you will get a cold sen­sa­tion in your mouth.

The cool­ing effect can be some­what neg­a­tive in some cas­es, but in chew­ing gum, cough drop and ice cream it is a good fit, espe­cial­ly if they are flavoured with pep­per­mint, cin­na­mon or mint.

Not that sweet

The sweet­ness in sug­ar alco­hols varies from 50 to close to 100 per cent of the sweet­ness of reg­u­lar sug­ar. Sorbitol is found at the low­er end of the scale – around 50 per cent.

The low sweet­ness com­pared to sug­ar and the lax­a­tive effect (worst of all sug­ar alco­hols) makes it prac­ti­cal­ly impos­si­ble to use sor­bitol alone to replace sug­ar. At least if the sweet­ness should be the same. In those cas­es, you will need a high-inten­si­ty sweetener.

What does the expert say?

We ask Ola Broström, inno­va­tion man­ag­er at Bayn, what he thinks of sorbitol.

When should sorbitol be considered?

- If it is cru­cial to keep the ingre­di­ents cost price down, sor­bitol is a hot can­di­date. It is one of the cheap­est sug­ar alco­hols on the mar­ket. But on the oth­er hand, you have to deal with the draw­backs of sor­bitol, and it costs both time to exper­i­ment how to fix the draw­backs and mon­ey for the oth­er ingre­di­ents that must also be added. So the total cost may not be low­er with sor­bitol com­pared to a more expen­sive ingredient.

What should you consider when using sorbitol?

– All sug­ar alco­hols retain water in the colon which can lead to diar­rhoea. That is why foods with more than 10 per cent sug­ar alco­hols should have infor­ma­tion that exces­sive con­sump­tion can have a lax­a­tive effect. With sor­bitol, you have to be extra care­ful. Its excel­lent abil­i­ty to retain mois­ture becomes a sig­nif­i­cant dis­ad­van­tage in the colon. Only 170 mil­ligrams of sor­bitol per kilo­gram of body weight is need­ed to reach the lim­it for lax­a­tive risk. For oth­er sug­ar alco­hols, the lim­it is 300–660 mil­ligram per kilo­gram of body weight. Therefore, you have to be extra care­ful when using sorbitol.

Ola’s three tips

  1. Be care­ful with the dosage; too much sor­bitol is hard for the stom­ach to handle.
  2. Sorbitol often needs oth­er ingre­di­ents to pro­vide sweet­ness. Choose wise­ly what ingre­di­ents might be right for you.
  3. Don’t be blind­ed by the cheap price. Other ingre­di­ents and devel­op­ment costs can result in a hefty bill.

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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