E968

Erythritol

  • Our verdict: 3 - watch out
  • Origin: It is produced from natural sources that are not further chemically treated.

Erythritol (E968) is a sugar alcohol commonly used as a sweetener and filler in foods and beverages. It is a polyol that occurs naturally in some fruits and fermented foods. Erythritol is approximately 70% as sweet as sucrose (table sugar) but contributes minimal calories to the diet due to its low digestibility by the human body.

Origin

Erythritol occurs naturally in certain fruits such as grapes, melons and pears, as well as in fermented foods such as soy sauce and wine. However, erythritol used commercially is usually produced by fermentation of glucose by yeast.

Characteristics and uses in the food industry

  • Sweetness: Approximately 60-70% of the sweetness of sucrose.
  • Almost no calories: Provides approximately 0,2 calories per gram compared to 4 calories per gram of sugar.
  • Digestibility: Absorbed in the small intestine and excreted unchanged in the urine, resulting in minimal effect on blood sugar levels.
  • Taste: May provide a cooling sensation similar to mint when consumed in high concentrations.
  • Safe for teeth: Does not promote tooth decay.

Use in ultra-processed foods

Erythritol is widely used in ultra-processed foods for several reasons:

  • Sugar substitute: It enables the creation of low-calorie versions of beverages, bakery products and dairy products, which appeals to health-minded consumers.
  • Texture enhancement: improves mouthfeel and texture in jellies, jams, chocolates and confectionery, maintaining product quality while reducing calorie content.
  • Stability and shelf life: Contributes to product stability by maintaining sweetness and texture over time, extending shelf life, especially in baked goods and snacks.
  • Synergy with intense sweeteners: Blends well with high-intensity sweeteners to mask bitter aftertastes and provide a balanced sweet profile.
  • Safe for teeth: Does not promote tooth decay, making it suitable for oral health friendly products such as chewing gum and sugar-free candies.
  • Influencing eating habits: Meets consumer preferences for low-calorie and low-carbohydrate options, influencing purchasing decisions in favour of perceived healthier options.

Impact on human health

Although erythritol is generally considered safe to consume, there are some health concerns:

  • Digestive problems: Excessive consumption can cause digestive problems such as bloating, gas and diarrhea, especially in sensitive individuals.
  • Laxative effect: Consumption of large amounts of erythritol can have alaxative effect. Products containing erythritol often carry warnings about this possible side effect.
  • Tolerance: Some individuals may have a low tolerance to erythritol, leading to gastrointestinal discomfort.
  • Potential allergies: Allergic reactions to erythritol are rare but possible in sensitive individuals.

Despite these considerations, erythritol is considered safe by regulatory bodies such as the FDA and EFSA when consumed in recommended amounts.

Sources

  1. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) (2023). "Erythritol." Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/food/food-additives-petitions/additional-information-about-high-intensity-sweeteners-permitted-use-food-united-states
  2. European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). (2022). "Scientific Opinion on the safety of erythritol for the proposed uses as a food additive." EFSA Journal 20(1): e07032.