by Annie Price
If you’ve read the ingredients on a zero-sugar drink, lower-calorie ice cream, or sugar-free gum, chances are erythritol has crossed your radar. This sugar alternative tastes like a slightly-less-sweet version of regular sugar, but it has just 6% of the calories per serving. Studies have also shown that it has a low impact on blood sugar levels, making it a safe alternative for diabetics, as well as keto- and paleo-friendly.
But what exactly is erythritol and is it safe? Let’s take a closer look…
What Is Erythritol?
Erythritol is one of a handful of sugar alcohols that have become popular as sugar substitutes; other sugar alcohols you may have seen on nutrition labels include xylitol, sorbitol, maltitol and isomalt. Erythritol is 60-70% as sweet as table sugar, with nearly zero calories. In fact, it has the lowest calorie count of any sugar alcohol.
It’s naturally found in some fruits, mushrooms, and fermented foods like wine and soy sauce, but commercial erythritol is often made from enzymatically hydrolyzed corn starch or wheat. This creates glucose, which is then fermented into erythritol.
Is it Safe?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved erythritol for use as a food additive in 2001, which means that it is generally considered safe for most people (and dogs) in moderation.
However, too much “can act as a laxative in high quantities and also cause gastrointestinal distress like gas and bloating” according to Clean Plates founder Jared Koch. It may also cause nausea, and, for some, an allergic reaction.
These side effects are actually less pronounced with erythritol than other sugar alcohols, but if you notice any of these unwanted symptoms, decrease the amount you’re using. And, if you still experience side effects, then this just may not be the right alternative sweetener for you.
What Are the Benefits?
On the plus side, this sugar substitute is essentially calorie-free and has a low impact on blood sugar levels. It’s also tooth-friendly since sugar alcohol can’t be metabolized by oral bacteria. Research has even shown that it can reduce dental plaque and decrease cavity risk. We’re sweet on that!
How to Buy and Use Erythritol
In shopping for erythritol, look for a brand that is non-GMO certified. And keep an eye out for other sweeteners and “natural flavors,” which are often not-so-natural. We like NOW Foods and Whole Earth, both of which have just one ingredient: non-GMO erythritol.
You can use it as a 1:1 substitute for sugar for a slightly less sweet final product. Or you can add about 25% more if you want to match the sweetness level of sugar. Just be aware: This alt sweetener can produce a cooling or minty sensation, especially when it’s used in large quantities. And, if you’re looking for caramelization, don’t reach for erythritol because it will not provide this effect when heated.