It looks like sugar, but it’s xylitol, one of the sugar alcohols. Photo courtesy Made-In-China.com. You can buy xylitol online.
Sugar alcohols occur naturally in fruits and vegetables. They are natural products. They have calories, though significantly fewer calories than regular sugars because they are not completely absorbed by the body. This allows products that use sugar alcohols for sweeteners to be labeled “sugar-free” or “reduced-calorie.” (Sugar-free does not mean calorie-free.)
As a group, the sugar alcohols are not as sweet as sucrose (table sugar)—xylitol, for example, is derived from corn instead of sugar cane, and is approximately 5% less sweet than sugar. It also has a much lower glycemic rating and far fewer calories (see the list below). But they don’t do everything. For example, sugar alcohols do not brown when heated, so can’t be substituted when caramelization is required.
The group of sugar alcohols includes the following, listed along with their associated calories/gram. Sugar has 4 calories/gram; thus, isomalt, lactitol and maltitol have half the calories of sugar, along with a lower glycemic index.
As with the other nutritive sweeteners like table sugar, brown sugar, honey, and syrups, different sugar alcohols work better in different applications. Expense of production also impacts a manufacturer’s decision to use one over another.
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