Sorbitol, a polyol (sugar alcohol), is a bulk sweetener found in numerous food products. In addition to providing sweetness, it is an excellent humectant and texturizing agent. Sorbitol is about 60 percent as sweet as sucrose with one-third fewer calories. It has a smooth mouthfeel with a sweet, cool and pleasant taste. It is non-cariogenic and may be useful to people with diabetes. Sorbitol has been safely used in processed foods for almost half a century. It is also used in other products, such as pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.
A French chemist first discovered sorbitol in the berries of the mountain ash in 1872. It occurs naturally in a wide variety of fruits and berries. Today it is commercially produced by the hydrogenation of glucose and is available in both liquid and crystalline form.
- Provides bulk and sweetness with a clean, cool pleasant taste
- Provides one-third fewer calories than sugar – about 2.6 calories per gram
- Is an excellent humectant, texturizing and anti-crystallizing agent
- Can be used in a wide variety of products, including sugar-free candies, chewing gums, and sugar free foods such as frozen desserts and baked goods
- Does not contribute to the formation of dental caries
- May be useful as an alternative to sugar for people with diabetes on the advice of their health care providers
Sorbitol is used as a humectant in many types of products for protection against loss of moisture content. The moisture-stabilizing and textural properties of sorbitol are used in the production of confectionery, baked goods and chocolate where products tend to become dry or harden. Its moisture-stabilizing action protects these products from drying and maintains their initial freshness during storage.
Sorbitol is very stable and chemically unreactive. It can withstand high temperatures and does not participate in Maillard (browning) reactions. This is an advantage, for example, in the production of cookies where a fresh color with no appearance of browning is desired. Sorbitol also combines well with other food ingredients such as sugars, gelling agents, proteins and vegetable fats. It functions well in many food products such as chewing gums, candies, frozen desserts, cookies, cakes, icings and fillings as well as oral care products, including toothpaste and mouthwash.
Does Not Promote Tooth Decay
Sorbitol is resistant to metabolism by oral bacteria which break down sugars and starches to release acids that may lead to cavities or erode tooth enamel. Sorbitol is also non-cariogenic. The usefulness of sorbitol, as an alternative to sugars and as part of a comprehensive program including proper dental hygiene has been recognized by the American Dental Association. The US FDA has approved the use of a “does not promote tooth decay” health claim in labeling for sugar-free foods that contain sorbitol. Products sweetened with sorbitol may be labeled safe for teeth in some other countries.
Use In The Diets Of People With Diabetes
Control of blood glucose, lipids and weight are the three major goals of diabetes management today. Sorbitol is slowly absorbed. Therefore, when sorbitol is used, the rise in blood glucose and the insulin response associated with the ingestion of glucose is significantly reduced. The reduced caloric value (2.6 calories per gram versus 4.0 for sugar) of sorbitol is consistent with the objective of weight control. Products sweetened with sorbitol in place of sugar may be useful in providing a wider variety of reduced calorie and sugar free choices to people with diabetes.
Recognizing that diabetes is complex and requirements for its management may vary between individuals, the usefulness of sorbitol should be discussed between individuals and their health care providers. Foods sweetened with sorbitol may contain other ingredients which also contribute calories and other nutrients. These must be considered in meal planning.
Reduced Calorie Alternative To Sugar
Absorption of sorbitol by the human body is slow, allowing part of the ingested sorbitol to reach the large intestine where metabolism yields fewer calories. Therefore, unlike sugar which contributes four calories per gram, the caloric contribution of sorbitol is about 2.6 calories per gram. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has stated it does not object to the use of this value. The lower caloric value of sorbitol and other polyols is recognized in other countries as well. For example, the European Union has provided a Nutritional Labeling Directive stating that all polyols, including sorbitol, have a caloric value of 2.4 calories per gram.
Sorbitol’s safety is supported by numerous studies reported in the scientific literature. The Joint Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) has reviewed the safety data and concluded that sorbitol is safe. JECFA has established an acceptable daily intake (ADI) for sorbitol of “not specified,” meaning no limits are placed on its use. An ADI “not specified” is the safest category in which JECFA can place a food ingredient. JECFA’s decisions are often adopted by many small countries which do not have their own agencies to review food additive safety.
The Scientific Committee for Food of the European Union (EU) published a comprehensive assessment of sweeteners in 1985, concluding that sorbitol is acceptable for use, also without setting a limit on its use.
In developing the current U.S. food and drug regulation which affirms sorbitol as GRAS, the safety data were carefully evaluated by qualified scientists of the Select Committee on GRAS Substances selected by the Life Sciences Office of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). In the opinion of the Select Committee, there was no evidence demonstrating a hazard where sorbitol was used at current levels or at levels that might be expected in the future. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s regulation for sorbitol requires the following label statement for foods whose reasonably foreseeable consumption may result in the daily ingestion of 50 grams of sorbitol: “Excess consumption may have a laxative effect.”
Multiple Ingredient Approach To Calorie Control
Sorbitol works well with other ingredients and may be synergistic with other sweeteners. This means the combination of the sweeteners is sweeter than the sum of the individual sweeteners and results in synergistic blends which provide taste, economic and stability advantages.