Xylitol is a popular and natural polyol sweetener based on a five-carbon sugar alcohol. It is an intermediate product of carbohydrate metabolism  derived from xylan in plants  (Sandrou & Arvanitoyannis, 2000).  It was first isolated from wood or birch syrup and has been used extensively since the 50’s when sugar was rationed. The Finns developed the ingredient having large reserves of forest for such extensive industrial production. Other sources include a variety of fruits – plums, strawberries and raspberries being good examples.

Xylitol And Dental Health

Its popularity is also due to its substitution for sugar which allows for the creation of products supporting good dental health and preventing tooth decay, products with low calorie or reduced sugar claims and those designed for diabetics (Ylikahri, 1979). The USA, Japan and Scandinavian countries use it extensively in a variety of products. Over 300 papers report on its use in preventing and even reversing tooth decay (Milgrom et al., 2009).

Xylitol is FDA approved and has the E number 967. It has the same relative sweetness as a sucrose but it also has a cooling effect even though its flavour profile is similar to sucrose (Kommineni et al., 2012). Although it is as sweet as sucrose, it  has 2.4 calories per gram compared to 4 calories per gram for sucrose. However, other polyols with a zero calorie rating such as erythritol are preferred in reducing the calories in products. Xylitol is one of the main selling points of birch sap because of its lower calorific value compared to sucrose.

We also make it naturally producing up to 15 g daily from food materials ingested. The polyol is partly absorbed and metabolised as sugar in the body whilst the remainder is fermented in the large intestine. One of the issues is fermentation in the gut producing flatulence and bloating. Some of us are intolerant to it – it can be a laxative.

There is an official web-site devoted to xylitol at http://xylitol.org


Kommineni, A., Amamcharla, J. & Metzger, L.E. (2012). Effect of xylitol on the functional properties of low-fat process cheese. J. Dairy Sci., 95, pp. 6252–6259.

Milgrom, P., Ly, K.A., Rothen, M. (2009). Xylitol and its vehicles for public health needs. Adv. Dental Res., 21, pp. 44–47.

Sandrou, D.K., Arvanitoyannis, I.S. (2000). Low-fat/calorie foods: current state and perspectives. Crit. Rev. Food Sci. Nutr., 40, pp. 427–447.

Ylikahri, R. (1979). Metabolic and nutritional aspects of xylitol. Adv. Food Res., 25, pp. 159–180.

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