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Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

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xylitol is a monosaccharide sugar alcohol found in small quantities in mushrooms, fruits, and vegetables, and in the fiber of various trees, such as birch. It was discovered in 1890, but it did not become an important sweetener until after World War II, when Finnish scientists began to promote “birch sugar” as a substitute for table sugar (sucrose). Finnish food manufacturers popularized xylitol as a sugar substitute in chewing gums and lozenges in the 1960s.

Xylitol has a number of unusual characteristics. It has the same appearance and sweet taste as sucrose, but the human body absorbs it more slowly and incompletely. Compared to sucrose, xylitol has fewer calories, and it does not spike blood sugar or raise insulin levels. Because it has a very low glycemic index, it is a useful sweetener for diabetics. In addition, oral bacteria do not metabolize xylitol, so it does not promote tooth decay; some studies suggest that it may facilitate remineralization of teeth. See dental caries. Xylitol also produces a cooling sensation in the mouth, which adds to the refreshing qualities of chewing gum and pastilles.