Xylitol (Molecule of the Month for March 2007)
wood sugar, birch sugar
Xylitol is a five-carbon sugar alcohol that is used as a sugar substitute. Xylitol is a naturally occurring sweetener found in the fibers of many fruits and vegetables, including various berries, corn husks, oats, and mushrooms. It can be extracted from corn fiber, birch, raspberries, plums, and corn. Xylitol is roughly as sweet as sucrose but contains 40% less calories.
Xylitol was first derived from Birch trees in Finland in the 19th century and was first popularized in Europe as a safe sweetener for diabetics that would not impact insulin levels. In the late 20th century, xylitol in granular form began to be mass produced in the United States under the brand name "Ultimate Sweetener" using beet plants in California. Today, using corn sources, most world supplies reportedly come primarily from China
One teaspoon of xylitol contains 9.6 calories, as compared to one teaspoon of sugar, which has 15 calories. Xylitol also contains zero net effective carbohydrates, whereas sugar contains 4 grams per teaspoon. Unlike Stevia, xylitol has virtually no aftertaste, and is advertised as "safe for diabetics and individuals with hypoglycemia". This is because carbohydrates like sugar alcohol have less impact on a person's blood sugar than regular sugars. Virtually all chewing gum sold in Europe is sweetened with xylitol. Xylitol is a "toothfriendly" sugar substitute. In addition to not encouraging tooth decay (by replacing dietary sugars), xylitol may actively aid in repairing minor cavities caused by dental caries. Recent research confirms a plaque-reducing effect and suggests that the compound, having some chemical properties similar to sucrose, attracts and then "starves" harmful micro-organisms, allowing the mouth to remineralize damaged teeth with less interruption.
Formal Chemical Name (IUPAC)
Update by Karl Harrison
(Molecule of the Month for March 2007 )