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Erythritol - Overview

A naturally occurring healthy sweetener in fruits (grapes, mushrooms, melons) and fermented foods (wine, beer, cheese and soy sauce), Erythritol was discovered in 1848 by British chemist John Stenhouse. At the industrial level, it is produced from glucose by fermentation with a yeast, Moniliella pollinis. It is 60–70% as sweet as table sugar yet it is almost non-caloric, does not affect blood sugar, does not cause tooth decay, and is absorbed by the body. Available in granulated and powdered forms, it is also known to cause least gastric side effects because Erythritol is a smaller molecule and 90 percent of it is absorbed in small intestine and excreted unchanged in the urine. Because of its zero glycemic index, it does not raise plasma glucose or insulin levels. Thus is suitable for diabetics.

Under U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) labeling requirements, it has a caloric value of 0.2 kilocalories per gram (95% less than sugar and other carbohydrates), though nutritional labeling varies from country to country. Some countries like Japan label it as zero-calorie, while European Union regulations currently label it and all other sugar alcohols at 2.4 kcal/g.

Erythritol got its first usage approval of zero calorie sweetener in Japan in 1990 in candies, chocolate, yogurt, fillings, jellies, jams, beverages, and as a sugar substitute. In the United States, it is classified as being Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) since 1997. It was approved in Australia and New Zealand in 1999. Thereafter many Asiatic/Pacific countries and the European Union gave its approval in 2006. Erythritol is also classified as sugar alcohol or polyols which are either extracted from plants or manufactured from starches. Sugar is mixed with water and then fermented with a natural culture into erythritol. It is then filtered, allowed to crystallize, and then dried. The finished product is white granules or powder that resembles sugar. It can also improve the sweetness, thickness, and smoothness of the drinks and also reduces the bitter taste of drinks.