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Chapter 3: Properties of Sugar Alcohols

Sweeteners: Alternative
Pages 31-37
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1094/189112711X.003
ISBN: 1-891127-11-X


Topics Covered

  • General Comparisons
  • Individual Sugar Alcohols
    • Sorbitol
    • Mannitol
    • Xylitol
    • Lactitol
    • Maltitol
    • Isomalt
    • Hydrogenated Starch Syrups

Introduction to Chapter

Sugar alcohols are an important group of sweeteners. The name “sugar alcohol” is a bit misleading because the molecular structure is not that of a sugar. Sugar alcohols are derived from sugars by hydrogenation of the sugar molecule, a process that chemically reduces the carbonyl group to the –OH chemical group, which is called an alcohol or hydroxyl group (Fig. 3-1). Hence, the commonly used name, sugar alcohols. Sugar alcohols are also referred to as polyols, polyhydric alcohols, or polyalcohols, all meaning “containing many –OH groups.” “Polyols” has been submitted to the Food and Drug Administration as the industry-preferred term. The common monosaccharide sugar alcohols are sorbitol, mannitol, and xylitol. The common disaccharide sugar alcohols are isomalt, lactitol, and maltitol. These substances also occur naturally in many plants and fruits.

Sugar alcohols are considered nutritive sweeteners because they have caloric value. They are important in the development of foods because they are noncariogenic and do not raise blood glucose to the levels that sucrose does (these features are discussed in more detail in Chapter 7). One of the purposes of sucrose is to provide bulk to a food product. In reduced-calorie foods, sugar alcohols can provide the bulk that high-intensity sweeteners alone cannot. Thus, they are often used in combination with high-intensity sweeteners. Some also provide sweetness on their own. Their relative sweetness, which depends upon concentration, ranges from 0.3 to 1 (Fig. 3-2) but can vary somewhat when determined by different methods. In their dry form, most sugar alcohols have a cooling effect upon the tongue, resulting from the negative heat of solution. The greater the negative number, the greater the cooling effect (Fig. 3-3). The primary uses of sugar alcohols in food applications are listed in Table 3-1.