Sorbitol – sugar reduction in practice

Sorbitol is something of a classic in sugar reduction. It is a sugar alcohol with a pleasant sweet taste, near negligible influence on blood sugar level and several excellent food-technical properties. But like other sugar alcohols, the sweetness is not in par with the sugar, and too much of the good will upset your stomach. So how can you use sorbitol to replace sugar? Let’s take a closer look.

5 June 2020 •

Sugar reduction is exciting but complex work. In an article series, we will look at some ingredients that can be used to reduce sugar in foods. How can the ingredients be used, and what should be considered? These are questions we should answer! In this article, we take a closer look at sorbitol.

What is sorbitol?

Sorbitol is a sugar alcohol that is formed when the monosaccharide glucose gets company by two hydrogen atoms. It’s accomplished by hydrolysis. Glucose is produced from starch that comes from potatoes, corn, wheat or any crop that is rich in starch.

We also find sorbitol in nature. For example, different kinds of berries and fruits such as plums, pears, strawberries and raspberries. And rowan berries. It is from the Latin term for rowan berries – Sorbus aucuparia – that sorbitol got its name.

Read more about sorbitol and how it is produced in Sorbitol – from seeds to Eureba. Let’s move on with sorbitol as an ingredient and how it can be used in practice.

Sorbitol instead of sugar?

Sorbitol has 50 to 60 per cent of the sweetness of sugar. That’s one reason why it’s challenging to replace sugar only with sorbitol. For the same amount of sweetness as sugar, twice as much sorbitol is needed.

It’s seldom feasible to replace sugar with twice the amount of sorbitol. The main problem is not the doubled volume and weight, but a less pleasant experience from the gastric region that too much sorbitol can cause. No other sugar alcohol, allowed in foods, is as laxative as sorbitol. You can use almost twice as much of other sugar alcohols, and close to four times as much of erythritol before it becomes a problem.

But sorbitol has a few other properties that make it popular for sugar reduction.

Low GI

For starters, sorbitol has almost no effect on the blood sugar level. Sorbitol is, however, not best in class. First place goes to erythritol, which has no effect at all. But sorbitol is pretty decent; its glycaemic index (GI) is six with white bread as a reference (GI 100).

Functional properties

Sorbitol is a hygroscopic sugar alcohol. That is, it can absorb moisture from the surroundings. Thus, sorbitol is not only a sweetening agent but also a humectant ingredient. Sorbitol attracts and releases moisture at a very slow pace.

The slow change in the degree of moisture protects the food and contributes in that way to extended shelf life. It also helps to maintain proper texture and that the food does get dry, which otherwise can result in an unwanted mouthfeel.

Thanks to these properties, we find sorbitol in sauce, ice cream, jam, marmalade, cereals, baked goods and various forms of desserts.

Stable ingredient

Sorbitol is a tough opponent for mouth bacteria. The oral bacteria cannot break down sorbitol (just like other sugar alcohols), thus preventing acid attacks and caries.

A hot oven is not a problem either. Sorbitol is heat resistant.


Sorbitol is endothermic. This means that heat is taken from the surroundings when sorbitol is dissolved in liquids. The result is a cooling effect. When you eat sorbitol, you will get a cold sensation in your mouth.

The cooling effect can be somewhat negative in some cases, but in chewing gum, cough drop and ice cream it is a good fit, especially if they are flavoured with peppermint, cinnamon or mint.

Not that sweet

The sweetness in sugar alcohols varies from 50 to close to 100 per cent of the sweetness of regular sugar. Sorbitol is found at the lower end of the scale – around 50 per cent.

The low sweetness compared to sugar and the laxative effect (worst of all sugar alcohols) makes it practically impossible to use sorbitol alone to replace sugar. At least if the sweetness should be the same. In those cases, you will need a high-intensity sweetener.

What does the expert say?

We ask Ola Broström, innovation manager at Bayn, what he thinks of sorbitol.

When should sorbitol be considered?

– If it is crucial to keep the ingredients cost price down, sorbitol is a hot candidate. It is one of the cheapest sugar alcohols on the market. But on the other hand, you have to deal with the drawbacks of sorbitol, and it costs both time to experiment how to fix the drawbacks and money for the other ingredients that must also be added. So the total cost may not be lower with sorbitol compared to a more expensive ingredient.

What should you consider when using sorbitol?

– All sugar alcohols retain water in the colon which can lead to diarrhoea. That is why foods with more than 10 per cent sugar alcohols should have information that excessive consumption can have a laxative effect. With sorbitol, you have to be extra careful. Its excellent ability to retain moisture becomes a significant disadvantage in the colon. Only 170 milligrams of sorbitol per kilogram of body weight is needed to reach the limit for laxative risk. For other sugar alcohols, the limit is 300–660 milligram per kilogram of body weight. Therefore, you have to be extra careful when using sorbitol.

Ola’s three tips

  1. Be careful with the dosage; too much sorbitol is hard for the stomach to handle.
  2. Sorbitol often needs other ingredients to provide sweetness. Choose wisely what ingredients might be right for you.
  3. Don’t be blinded by the cheap price. Other ingredients and development costs can result in a hefty bill.

A helping hand

If you want help reducing sugar in your product, we can help you. Do not hesitate to contact us.

Please, share this article if you liked it.


Similar articles

Right now we have no more articles on the subject.