Sorbitol is a polyol (sugar alcohol) that is used as a sweetening agent in various food products, including:
It has 60% of the sweetness of sucrose, with one-third fewer calories, and leaves a sweet, cool and pleasant taste.
As well as providing bulk and sweetness, it is an excellent humectant and texturising agent, it does not contribute towards dental caries and may be helpful to people with diabetes.
Sorbitol occurs naturally in various fruits and berries. First discovered in 1872, it is today commercially produced by the hydrogenation of glucose and is available in both liquid and crystalline form.
Benefits of Sorbitol
Sorbitol is useful in the production of confectionery, baked goods and chocolate where products tend to become dry or harden.
This is because it protects against loss of moisture content, unlike other polyols such as mannitol. Its moisture-stabilising properties, protects these products from drying and maintains their initial freshness during storage.
Sorbitol is also very stable. It can withstand high temperatures and does not participate in Maillard (browning) reactions. It works well with other food ingredients such as sugars, gelling agents, proteins and vegetable fats, and may be synergistic with other sweeteners.
Sorbitol is also regularly used in the formulation of oral care products such as toothpaste and mouthwash.
Helps protect against tooth decay
Like all polyols, sorbitol is non-cariogenic, meaning it is not metabolised by oral bacteria which break down sugars and starches to release acids that may lead to cavities or the erosion of tooth enamel.
This dental health benefit of sugar alcohols is recognised by various health groups/associations across the globe.
Reduced calorie value
Sorbitol is slowly absorbed by the body, allowing part of the ingested substance to reach the large intestine where metabolism generates fewer calories.
While sucrose (table sugar) contributes four calories per gram, sorbitol has a calorie value of just 2.5 and is widely used in formulating ‘low-calorie’ and ‘light’ food products.
Beneficial for diabetics
Sorbitol may be useful as an alternative to sugar for people with diabetes as it significantly reduces the rise in blood glucose and the insulin response associated with the ingestion of glucose.
It also has a reduced calorie value of around 2.54 kcal/g, which is consistent with the objective of calorie and weight control for diabetics.
Before opting for foods sweetened with sorbitol and/or other sugar alcohols, the usefulness of these polyols should be discussed with a GP/diabetes specialist as some of these products may contain other ingredients which may not be suitable for their diet.
Sorbitol has been proven to be a safe for use in the production of foods by numerous scientific studies. The Joint Food and Agriculture Organisation/World Health Organisation Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) states that sorbitol is safe and has established an acceptable daily intake* (ADI) for sorbitol of “not specified,” which is the safest category in which JECFA can place a food ingredient.
It is also approved for use by the European Union and numerous countries around the world, including Australia, Canada and Japan.