Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

  • About

sorbitol is a sugar alcohol employed as a sugar substitute. A French chemist discovered it in 1872 in berries, and the substance was later detected in a wide range of fruits. Although found in nature, sorbitol has been prepared synthetically since the 1960s from sugar, glucose syrup, or starch, with the most common sources for the starch being corn and cassava.

Sorbitol is sold in liquid and crystalline forms. It is metabolized more slowly than glucose or fructose, so it can be used by diabetics, since it does not increase blood glucose levels when consumed. Sorbitol also contains fewer calories than table sugar (sucrose), and it is used in many diet foods as a bulk sweetener. In the food industry it is mainly used in fruit preserves, cake mixes, ice cream, cookies, chocolates, pastries, and sugar-free candy and gum. Its main nonfood applications are in toothpaste, mouthwash, cosmetics, and laxatives.