Sorbitol, Mannitol, Maltitol, Erythritol…What are they?
Sorbitol, Mannitol, Maltitol and Erythritol are different types Polyols - sugar-free sweeteners.
They are also called ‘sugar alcohols’ because their chemical structure resembles partly sugar and partly alcohol but they have nothing to do either with sugar or alcohol. Polyols are a particular type of carbohydrate. They may be used either as sweeteners, or for other functions in food such as bulking agents, emulsifiers, stabilisers, humectants, thickeners and texturisers.
They are so-called ‘bulk’ sweeteners, whose sweetening power in most cases is lower than that of sugar. Polyols contain fewer calories than table sugar or starch-based sugars like glucose-syrup and glucose-fructose syrup: the caloric value of all polyols is 2,4 kcal/g except erythritol which has 0 kcal/g. Polyols have proven to be extremely beneficial in terms of dental health, Polyols do not promote tooth decay, because they are hardly fermented by oral bacteria, preventing a PH drop in the mouth. Different polyols provide slightly different technical benefits and are therefore used in different foods.
The most widely used polyols are Sorbitol, Mannitol, Maltitol and Erythritol.
Some polyols are found naturally in various fruits and vegetables, for example sorbitol in plums, erythritol in grapes, or xylitol in mushrooms.
For more information on polyols, both generally and on specific polyols produced by the starch industry, have a look at the Polyols section on this site: Starch in Food-What are Polyols?