What is trehalose?

Trehalose is a sugar, a disaccharide composed of two glucose molecules joined by an alpha-alpha (1,1) glycosidic bond [1].

Trehalose structure

Picture 1. Trehalose structural formula

Nutrition Facts for Trehalose

  • Calories per gram = 4 [3]
  • Glycemic index (GI) = 72 (high) [16-p.9]
  • Sweetness, relative to sucrose = 45% [1]
  • Net carbohydrates = 100%

Trehalose Sources

Trehalose occurs naturally in small amounts in mushrooms, honey, lobsters, shrimps, certain seaweeds (algae), wine, beer, bread and other foods produced by using baker’s or brewer’s yeast [3].

As a food additive, trehalose is artificially produced from corn starch using several bacterial enzymes such as alpha-amylase, obtained from Bacillus licheniformis, and isoamylase from Pseudomonas amyloderamosa [1,3,4]. Trehalose is heat stable and preserves the cell structure of foods after heating and freezing, so it is used as a food texturizer and stabilizer in dried foods, frozen foods, nutrition bars, fruit fillings and jams, instant noodles and rice, white chocolate, sugar coating, bakery cream, processed seafood and fruit juices [3,4].

Trehalose Function in the Human Body

Trehalose is a source of energy – it can provide about 4 Calories per gram, about the same as sucrose [3].

Trehalose Safety

In the EU [5] and Australia [3], trehalose is considered a novel food – a food that does not have a long-term history of safe use. Trehalose as a food additive is safe to use; it is Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) [6]. Trehalose is approved and commonly used in Japan, Taiwan and south Korea; it is also approved in the EU, Australia and New Zealand [7].

According to some laboratory studies published in Nature in January 2018, trehalose stimulates the growth of certain strains of Clostridium difficile bacteria. These bacteria can cause severe inflammation of the colon, especially in the patients treated in hospitals. In one study in mice, dietary trehalose increased the severity of the infection caused by C. difficile. More studies are needed to find out if trehalose increases the risk and severity of the infection in humans.

Trehalose Digestion

In the small intestinal lining, the enzyme trehalase breaks trehalose into two glucose molecules, which are then absorbed [3]. Healthy individuals can completely digest 10-50 grams of trehalose from a single meal [4,7]. Some individuals, especially those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and digestive problems mentioned below, may be sensitive to lower amounts, though. Any undigested trehalose passes to the large intestine where normal bacteria break it down to gases and irritant substances that can cause abdominal bloating or diarrhea [7].

Who can benefit from avoiding/limiting trehalose intake?

Individuals with the following conditions can benefit from avoiding trehalose:

  • Active celiac disease [4].
  • Trehalase deficiency–a rare genetic disorder most common in  Greenland [4,8,9,10]. The yeast Saccharomyces boulardii, sold as a prebiotic, releases the enzyme trehalase, so it could theoretically help reduce symptoms in individuals with trehalase deficiency, but there is a lack of human clinical trials [11].
  • Glucose-galactose malabsorption [13]
  • GLUT1 deficiency syndrome [14]

Trehalose and Dental Caries

Trehalose has a low potency of promoting tooth decay [12,15].

Trehalose and Blood Glucose, Insulin and Diabetes

  • Trehalose triggers only a small increase of blood insulin levels [2].
  • Trehalose glycemic index is 72, which is relatively high [16-p.9].

Trehalose and Cooking

  • Trehalose is a white crystalline substance, 45% as sweet as sucrose [1].
  • Trehalose has low hygroscopicity – it does not readily absorb water [17].
  • Trehalose solubility in water at 68 °F (20 °C) is 69 g/100 mL [6,18]. Trehalose is slightly soluble in ethanol [1].
  • The melting point of trehalose dihydrate is 207 °F (97 °C) and trehalose anhydride 210.5 °C (411 °F) [18].
  • Trehalose is a non-reducing sugar [1], so it does not react with amino acids to initiate the Maillard browning reaction [6].

  1. Trehalose  Food and Agriculture Organization
  2. Arai C et al, 2010, Trehalose prevents adipocyte hypertrophy and mitigates insulin resistance  PubMed
  3. Trehalose  Health Canada
  4. Trehalose  INCHEM
  5. Applications under Regulation (EC) N° 258/97 of the European Parliament and of the Council  European Commission
  6. GRAS Notification for Hayashibara Trehalose US Food and Drug Administration
  7. Trehalose as a novel food  Food Standards Australia New Zealand
  8. Trehalase deficiency  Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD)
  9. Gudmand-Høyer E, 1988, Trehalase Deficiency in Greenland PubMed
  10. Trehalase deficiency  Climb
  11. Buts JP et al, 2008, Characterization of alpha,alpha-trehalase released in the intestinal lumen by the probiotic Saccharomyces boulardii  PubMed
  12. Touger-Decker R et al, 2003, Sugars and dental caries  The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
  13. Glucose-galactose malabsorption  Genetics Home Reference
  14. GLUT1 deficiency syndrome  Genetics Home Reference
  15. Neta T et al, 2000, Low-cariogenicity of trehalose as a substrate  PubMed
  16. Mitchell H, 2006, Sweeteners-and-Sugar-Alternatives-in-Food-Technology
  17. Fakes MG et al, 2000 Moisture sorption behavior of selected bulking agents used in lyophilized products  PubMed
  18. Higashiyama T et al, 2002, Novel functions and applications of trehalose  IUPAC


27 Responses to "Trehalose"

  1. Mo Morgen says:

    i got some Trehalose from Swanson online because of all the raves i’ve read about it. I’ve been using saccharine in my coffee 3x daily for decades with no ill effects that i know of, i sometimes add a half teaspoon of turbinado sugar for taste, but avoid aspartame/splenda drinks. i do have a sweet tooth for cake and dark chocolate on occasion, so i thought whatever i can replace w/Trehalose would be beneficial.
    however, the first day i used it to replace saccharin/sugar in my coffee, after bkfst/lunch, i started to experience flatulence and diarrhea-like urges, which i thought were maybe due to the herring in sour cream i had for lunch-very vinegary. however, 2nd day i took Trehalose again, had more stomach (not intestinal i think) distress, and was very flatulent all day. my wife had the Trehalose w/ her morning coffee, soon afterwards she felt stomach bloating and mild flatulence.
    this does not seem to jibe with your statement that we can handle a huge amount with no problems (30-60 grams) and only when we go over that is there a problem with gases and irritants in the large intestine. i’m also noting your warnings to those w/celiac disease,
    which i don’t have but for many years suffered from mild IBS, which has not been a problem for the last decade. my wife also has
    a touch of mild IBS.
    I’m a healthy 77, but would love to experience the reputed protections of Trehalose vs. Alzheimer’s, aging, diabetes, blood sugar,
    mood, Parkinson’s (my Dad had it), and the supposed aid to good hydration it is supposed to provide. but of course if the side effects are so discomforting, then i can’t. Why are we having these reactions with such small doses? should we take it with meals rather than coffee, which we usually have on an empty stomach? I read one other site i googled that said, in addition to your warnings, that it’s impossible to gain any benefit from orally ingested Trehalose because it just breaks down to sucrose before it is
    absorbed. is this true? if so, why are these the only negatives i’m reading, every other site is saying Trehalose is miraculous and totally safe.

    • Jan Modric says:

      No Morgen, in one small study mentioned here (under the section 2.3.1), no individuals had a problem with 10 grams, but some have problems with 20 grams of trehalose (I edited this now in the article).

      The Food Standards of New Zealand and Australia (where trehalose is more popular) says that the lowest dose, healthy individuals are sensitive is 33 grams.

      On the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) website, there are several studies, in which many individuals tolerated 50 grams of trehalose dissolved in water on the empty stomach.

      You may be simply more sensitive to trehalose or there was maybe some other ingredient in that trehalose product it caused you problems. Or you may have one of the enzyme deficiencies explained under “Digestion” above in the article.

      As explained above in the article, trehalose is completely digested in the small intestine to glucose.

      I have fond some studies about the effect of trehalose on Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease in rats and mice but no human studies, so I did not mention any in the article.

      I don’t know how trehalose would improve hydration. Hydration comes from water not from sugar.

      Glycemic index of trehalose is 72, which is higher than in sucrose (table sugar), so it does seems to be better for diabetes.

      I’ve found one very new study which the authors concluded that trehalose may have some protective effect on the arteries, but this alone is not enough for me to recommend trehalose as a method of prevention of aging.

      • An says:

        wo bacterial strains that have plagued hospitals around the country may have been at least partly fueled by a sugar additive in our food products, scientists say. Trehalose, a sugar that is added to a wide range of food products, could have allowed certain strains of Clostridium difficile to become far more virulent than they were before, a new study finds. This is an article from the Los Angeles Times by Amina Khan today on the web.

    • Ed Wilkinson says:

      I would try to stay away from trehalose if possible. New data suggests this sweetener can put you at a far greater risk of a serious gut infection known as C Diff.

    • harvey brown, md says:

      A common sugar additive in food may fuel deadlier outbreaks of a superbug in hospitals, researchers say.

      Clostridium difficile can cause a serious bacterial infection that can rampage through hospitals and lead to severe diarrhea and death. The bowel bug is the most common cause of antibiotic-associated diarrhea.

      After 2000, epidemic strains unexpectedly took off in Canada, the United States and Europe and deaths increased dramatically. Why it became so common and severe so quickly had scientists stumped.

      This week, American, British and Dutch researchers said they found a new reason to consider: changes in our food supply.

      The findings suggest that when the food industry widely adopted the sugar, called trehalose, into food manufacturing, it played a major role in the emergence of super-strong strains of C. difficile.

      Research Paper in Nature
      Nature Commentary

  2. Mo Morgen says:

    why did my comments disappear and you say required fields were not filled out? they were!

    • Jan Modric says:

      After you submit a comment, it then disappears until we approve it – if we do, it should be visible in 24 hours in week days.

  3. Julie Aquilina says:

    I ate a product similar to rice cakes with trehalose. Within minutes, I felt short of breath, my heart racing, and immediate bloating. I have gastroparesis and possible wheat sensitivity. I won’t be consuming anything else with trehalose in it just as I don’t consume anything with artificial sweeteners. I never heard of trehalose before. Once my body starting reacting, I looked up the ingredients and googled trehalose.

  4. Thomas says:

    While trehalose is digested in the intestines into glucose, both the mouth and gut have sugar receptors that may recognize it and signal transduce prior to its digestion. Science Direct: “We now know that the receptors that sense sugar and artificial sweeteners are not limited to the tongue. … “Cells of the gut taste glucose through the same mechanisms used by taste cells of the tongue. The gut taste cells regulate secretion of insulin and hormones that regulate appetite.Aug 21, 2007

  5. Lisa DeRoss says:

    Hadn’t heard of this sugar until this article in today’s Los Angeles Times:

    I’ve been weary and skeptical of corn sugars for many years and eliminated all processed sugars last year, but now trehalose will forever be on my list of banned ingredients.

    • Carroll says:

      Problem is trehalose can be listed as natural flavorings in ingredient list of products. You won’t know if its in the product.

  6. Chas says:

    Trehalose and c dif bacterium. Listen to BBC science now broadcast on 4/01/18

  7. Amy Moyer says:

    My previously very healthy daughter became very ill from C-diff. the article above suggests a possible connection to Trehalose.

  8. MJ says:

    Any body considering this should read about the suspect nature of the product now. See: or search the web.

  9. Jan Modric says:

    They found a possible association between trehalose and C. difficile, which is not already a cause-effect relationship. More studies are needed to find out if trehalose actually increases the risk or severity of C. difficile infection.

  10. Thomas M Edmonds says:

    Moral of the story: Don’t eat anything that you cannot pronounce and know to be all natural. Ingredients generated in a lab are always suspect to being safe.

    • Jan Modric says:

      There are a lot of nutrients that are naturally present in the food and may be hard to pronounce. Trehalose also occurs naturally in some foods.

  11. BJ says:

    This product should be banned or widely advertised if used as it puts all of us at risk for C Diff.
    Now we have to consider all the food we eat that’s not fresh from our own kitchens including
    prepared foods and restaurant foods. Since sugars are added to things that we don’t even
    consider as a sweet food (meats, vegetables, starches), this could include almost all food.
    I wonder if it is used in hospitals and other facilities where there are patients with or at high
    risk of C Diff?

    Who can we contact to restrict it’s use without it being listed on menus or food ingredient

    • Jan Modric says:

      There were some studies done about how trehalose can stimulate the growth of C. difficile in the laboratory and in mice, but more studies are needed to see if it is harmful for people.

      • Mike says:

        I agree, more studies are needed to determine factually if trehalose is the cause of c. Difficiles rise. But the timing and these studies should be enough to suspend it use in food. This isn’t a vaccine or otherwise essential ingredient. The potential harm its caused, and could continue to cause, for what benfit?

        • Robert Backus says:

          Overreaction has hurt a lot of people, when we rush to judgment because 1 or 2 studies said such and such. Then, only years late, after companies have gone bankrupt, people have been fired, the truth comes out about either bad studies, small sample sizes or results that couldn’t be repeated show that the first few studies were wrong. This rush to do something without adequate actual science is poor judgment. Science requires that studies be able to be repeated, yet only a small amount of experiments are actually repeated because few actually fund them. The go vernment, business and other organizations are just excited about the initial study and don’t bother with repeating it to see if it’s actual science. Just pop your head into the scientific arena and you’ll realize that there are studies being pulled from publication often, or are forced to write articles about what went wrong. So, if something causes you discomfort, then don’t use it, but don’t paint the entire universe with your body. Your reaction may be in the minority and the benefit for the 90% may be too valuable to “suspend it use in food” because 1 or 2 studies show the negative. Just remember the 80s and 90s and Oat bran craze. It took a long time for the truth to come out about those studies paid for by the oat companies.

          • Greg B says:

            Oh Robert, don’t be such a kill-joy! We want our emotional reactions to cherry-picked science articles, and our magic thinking that if we only avoid this or that, all risks will be eliminated and everything will be wonderful. Please don’t ask us to think! That’s hard!

          • Carroll says:

            I would not use it if they would label it properly! But its hidden under ” natural flavor” . its also used as a preservative on fresh vegatables! How are we to know what foods contain trehalose. As someone who is suffering after cdiff I do not agree with your pro industry stand of wait to see what happens. I’m an example if what happens.

          • I would just like to know how to know if Trehalose is in a product. It does not seem to appear on food labels so is it necessary to assume all items sweetened with corn sweeteners are now trehalose. I know people who have had C. diff and they would certainly like to avoid or at least know for sure what they are eating.

  12. Arlene Kanno says:

    Since trehalose is considered GRAS, it is not required to be listed as such on food packaging. The manufacturer can just call it “sugar”. This is terrible for people like myself who have had C. difficile. My case was precipitated by use of antibiotics. I thought I had recovered. (I’m 74.) I have been a regular consumer of [edit: we do not discuss brands here] chips (several varieties) and have been experiencing flatulence. I phoned the customer line and was at first told that their snack products don’t have sugar. I said I have a package in front of me that lists “sugar”. Then the agent admitted that particular flavored chip did have sugar.
    But it is derived from beet and corn, she said. Well, I said, Cargill (manufacturer of trehalose) makes it from CORNstarch. She said she didn’t understand the relationship between C. diff and trehalose, although I explained it twice. She repeated that trehalose is not listed as an ingredient. With the recent revelation of scientific data on two strains of C. diff thriving on very small amounts of trehalose (January 2018), obviously the company has a vested interest in not admitting that the “sugar” is trehalose.
    I’m not waiting for any more “studies”. I’m not consuming any more [edit: we do not discuss brands here] products, and I’m advising my friends who are over 60 to be VERY careful since the trehalose is hidden. BTW, I am a retired biology teacher who has taken organic chemistry and biochemistry. I also understand that when several manufacturers start “enhancing” hundreds of food products (even beef) with the “wonder ingredient” trehalose, many vulnerable older folks may be in real trouble. Caveat emptor.

  13. Nora B Manwiller says:

    Is there any way to find out if trehalose is in a food?

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