Search for non-calories sweeteners is a continuous one as most of the sucrose substitutes being permitted to day for use in foods are not considered 100% satisfactory. Any eligible sugar alternative should have ideal characteristics like zero calorie, no after taste, easy to use, good stability at normal and elevated temperatures, no discomfort to consumers, safe for regular use and as low cost as possible. Low calorie sweeteners are gaining popularity because of historical weakness for sweet taste amongst humans and unhealthy attributes of sugar made from sugar beets and sugar cane. Weight watchers and diabetic population are constantly looking for low calorie sweeteners that can give them sensory satisfaction without affecting their health in one way or the other. Food industry has an obligation to fulfill the demand for products with low calorie load to meet such emerging need in the market. A vexing issue that bothers both the industry as well as the industry is which sweetener is the best for their use.
Xylitol, a sugar alcohol known for decades as a low calorie sweetener, did not find favor because of its low sweet "intensity" as gram for gram it is equal to sucrose and if the sugar use is to be curtailed drastically, Xylitol, probably may not be able to fill the resulting void. Xylitol is derived from fibers of fruits and vegetables involving extraction, hydrolysis and purification. Denmark is the major manufacturer of Xylitol though China and Russia are close on their heels with cheaper versions of the same product. Xylitol provides only 9.6 kC per 5 gm while Sucrose has 20 kc for the same amount. Where Xylitol has over whelming advantage is in its glycemic response as it has a very low Glycemic Index of just 13 as against 100 for glucose which means its absorption is slower and it will not create glucose surge in the blood immediately after its oral consumption.
Besides its main role as a sugar substitute, Xylitol also is fighter against dental caries and its regular consumption through products like candies and chewing gums is recommended by Association of Dentists from more than a dozen countries and scientists working in this area. Anti microbial activity of Xylitol in the oral cavity is based on the inability of infecting bacteria to metabolize 5 carbon sugars and alcohols and consequent inhibition of their growth around the teeth. There are thousands of products in the market world over containing Xylitol with claims of maintaining dental health but whether they contain sufficient amount to exert this beneficial effect is highly doubtful since for therapeutic effect one has to take about 10 gm per day. No toxicity has ever been reported consuming Xylitol though occurrence of stomach discomfort, especially at high levels of consumption, is reported. An area of some uncertainty is what effect Xylitol will have on the GI tract bacterial make up when consumed regularly as it has some inhibiting property against many bacteria.
Recent claim by an American company about development of Xylitol powder for use exactly the same way as natural white or brown sugar reflects the growing interest in this sweetener. According to them, their product branded as Ideal(R) is "world's first and only low-calorie powdered sweetener", made with the natural ingredient xylitol while its Ideal(R) Brown can measure, cup for cup like brown sugar for many operations including perfect for baking. Performing as well as brown sugar in muffins or marinades or sprinkled on oatmeal, Ideal(R) Brown is claimed to have the texture and taste one expects from traditional brown sugar. Stevia which is being promoted by large companies, after its clearance by the FDA of the US recently is considered a major competitor for Xylitol but latter does not give the peculiar after taste associated with Stevia.