- Erythritol Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
- Mitchell, H., 2006, Sweeteners and Sugar Alternatives in Food Technology
- GRAS Assessment of Erythritol US Food and Drug Administration
- Erythritol Calorie Control Council
- Current EU approved additives and their E Numbers Food Standards Agency
- Human gut microbiota does not ferment erythritol. PubMed
- Scientific opinion: Statement in relation to the safety of erythritol (E 968) in light of new data, including a new paediatric study on the gastrointestinal tolerability of erythritol European Food Safety Authority
- Hino, H. eta al, 2000, A case of allergic urticaria caused by erythritol PubMed
- Quality of Reduced-Fat Chiffon Cakes Prepared with Erythritol-Sucralose as Replacement for Sugar Pakistan Journal of Nutrition
- Erythritol: human health effects Toxnet
- Kim Y et al, 2011, Combination of erythritol and fructose increases gastrointestinal symptoms in healthy adults PubMed
What is erythritol?
Erythritol is an artificial sweetener; chemically it is a sugar alcohol, so it belongs to carbohydrates.
Erythritol, which does not need to be digested, is quickly absorbed in the small intestine, is poorly metabolized, has no known functions in the human body and is excreted through the urine unchanged.
Picture 1. Erythritol structure
- Calories per gram = 0.2
- Glycemic index (GI) = 0
- Sweetness, relative to sucrose = 70%
- Net carbs = zero
Erythritol is semi-artificially produced by fermentation of glucose, derived from wheat or cornstarch, by using non-pathogenic yeasts like non-GMO (not genetically modified) Moniliella pollinis or Trichosporonoides megachilensis [1,2-p.153]. Erythritol is made of glucose with added hydroxyl (OH) groups .
Foods with Erythritol
Erythritol is naturally present in insignificant amounts (up to 0.2 grams per serving) in pears, melons, grapes and mushrooms and in yeast-derived foods such as wine, beer, sake, soy sauce and cheese; it is also present in the human body [2-p.152;3].
Semi-synthetic erythritol can be used as a non-caloric sweetener in tabletop sweeteners, fondant, candies, chocolates, ice cream, chewing gums, dairy products, baked products, yogurts, jellies, fillings, jams, coffee syrups, soda, energy drinks, vitamin water and also in lozenges [1,4]. On the food labels in the European Union, erythritol is labeled as E-number E968 .
Erythritol Absorption and Metabolism
More than 90% of erythritol is usually quickly absorbed in the small intestine; erythritol is poorly metabolized and is eliminated unchanged with the urine [2-p.159]. When erythritol is consumed in amounts found in the usual food serving sizes, a small amount of the unabsorbed erythritol can pass to the large intestine where it is, unlike other sugar alcohols, not fermented by the normal large intestinal bacteria, so it is excreted unchanged with the feces and does not likely cause abdominal bloating [2-p.160;4,6].
Nutrition Facts and Calories
Erythritol provides only 0.2 kilocalories per gram and is considered a zero-calorie carbohydrate sweetener [2-p.59]. Erythritol has zero net carbohydrates.
Can erythritol be good for you?
Diabetes: Erythritol has low glycemic index (GI)
Erythritol has very low glycemic index (GI = 0); consumption of 1 g erythritol/kg body weight does not raise blood glucose and insulin levels, so it may be suitable for diabetics [2-p.174;4]. Erythritol has a “low” effect on the insulin release [7,10].
Erythritol is not fermented by the mouth bacteria, so it does not promote dental caries [2-p.161;4].
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Erythritol does not cause gas, so it may be suitable for individuals with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Erythritol is Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)  and has the “Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) not specified” status by The Joint Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) . It is also approved in the EU, Canada, Australia, Japan and many other countries .
Currently there is no evidence about erythritol as a risk factor for liver or other cancers.
There is no evidence about harmful effects of erythritol for the fetus, but insufficient research has been done to state its safety during pregnancy.
Erythritol Side Effects and Dangers
When consumed in excess, the unabsorbed erythritol can attract water from the intestinal wall and cause diarrhea (an osmotic effect). The laxation threshold of erythritol in healthy men is 0.66 g/kg and in women 0.8 g/kg body weight or 50 grams in a single dose by a 160 lbs man or 140 lbs woman [2-p.161] or at least 15 grams in 4-6-year-old kids  and probably more than 1 g/kg/day or about 75 grams per day by a 160 lbs person [2-p.160]. For example, a 3.5 oz (100 g) chocolate or nine hard candies may contain 60 grams erythritol . Erythritol is not permitted in beverages in the EU because of its laxative effect that may occur at doses around 25 grams .
Erythritol consumed along with fructose increases the risk of diarrhea, so it does not seem to be appropriate sweetener in fructose malabsorption, as previously suggested .
Erythritol in large doses can cause abdominal pain and headache . Erythritol can trigger allergic reactions in sensitive people .
Erythritol and Cooking
- Erythritol is commercially available as a white, anhydrous (without water), crystalline substance in a powdered, granular or liquid form
- It is 70% as sweet as sucrose [2-p.151;4] without odor and with a clean sweet taste; when it remains in the crystal form, like in chocolate, it has a strong cooling effect in mouth, but when it is dissolved, like in soft drinks, the cooling effect is lost [2-p.154;3].
- It does not decompose even at 356° F (180° C) [2-p.155].
- Very low hygroscopicity – it does not readily attract moisture from the air at the relative humidity 90% [2-p.157]
- Very low viscosity [2-p.158]
- Solubility in water at 77 °F (25° C) = 37 g/100 g solution [2-p.158], which is lower than that of sucrose, but it reaches sucrose solubility at higher temperatures [2-p.155]; slightly soluble in ethanol and insoluble in fats .
- Melting point = 246-253° F (119-123° C) [1,2-p.156]
- According to some producers, erythritol does not caramelize, but according to some cooks, it does. Erythritol does not undergo the Maillard browning reaction with amino acids .
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Is erythritol vegan?
Yes; erythritol is usually produced from wheat or cornstarch.
2. Is erythritol gluten-free?
Yes. Erythritol can be derived from wheat, but it should be gluten-free.
3. How is erythritol different from stevia, sucralose, xylitol and dextrose?
- Erythritol has almost no calories and does not cause bloating.
- Xylitol has about 2 kcal/g and can cause bloating.
- Sucralose has no calories and causes no bloating.
- Dextrose (glucose) has about 4 kcal/g and causes no bloating.
4. Is erythritol a FODMAP?
Unlike other sugar alcohols, erythritol is not a FODMAP, because it is not fermentable so it may not be bad for you if you have irritable bowel syndrome.
5. Is erythritol ketogenic?
6. Does erythritol promote the growth of intestinal candida?
Erythritol cannot be fermented by candida, so it does not promote its growth.
7. What is organic erythritol?
Erythritol that meets the “USDA organic” certificate criteria is available on the market.
8. Is there any substitute for erythritol?
When you do not have erythritol available, you can try other artificial sweeteners, such as stevia or sucralose.
- Sugar alcohols (polyols):
- Sugars: Tagatose