Even though erythritol is new to the sugar substitute scene it’s getting a lot of praise from those in the know because it has many of the benefits of sugar without the caloric downside. Sound too good to be true? Well, this ain’t your grandmother’s artificial sweetener. In fact, it's not artificial at all. Let's learn about erythritol.
What is Erythritol?
Erythritol is in a category of compounds called sugar alcohols or carbohydrates that taste sweet but don’t contain as many calories and have a lower impact on blood glucose. Other sugar alcohols include glycerol, isomalt, lactitol, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol, and xylitol. But sugar alcohols should not be confused with artificial sweeteners because though they are both meant to reduce calories and glycemic index, sugar alcohols come from natural sources like fruits and vegetables. And don’t worry, sugar alcohols don't actually contain any alcohol.
Erythritol is a sugar alcohol that’s made from the fermented natural sugar found in corn husks. It has no calories whatsoever and it doesn’t impact blood sugar. It’s normally used in chewing gum, beverages, and in baking. It’s considered very easy to digest because it’s absorbed into the small intestine.
Sugar-free image via Shuttershock
Is Erythritol Dangerous?
Current research hasn’t shown any dangers tied to erythritol thus far and it's generally recognized as safe by the FDA. But in terms of sweeteners, it’s important to note that even though they don’t contain anywhere near the calories of sugar, sugar substitutes have still been tied to weight gain. Studies published by the American Diabetes Association, Preventative Medicine, and Obesity have all shown this to be true because sweeteners stimulate the reward section of the brain which has addictive qualities. This means that whether it’s a sugar-dense cookie or a sugar-free cookie, we’re likely to eat more than we should because we LOVE being rewarded.
It’s also important to look for GMO-free erythritol because as noted before, it comes from corn, which is commonly genetically modified. A popular choice is Now Foods Erythritol Powder 100% Pure.
Erythritol Vs. Stevia (And Other Sugar Substitutes)
Stevia, unlike erythritol is not a sugar alcohol. It’s a sweetener that’s extracted from the Stevia rebaudiana plant. Sugar alcohols, on the other hand, are modified forms of sugar that stimulate the tastebuds without calories. Both erythritol and stevia are sugar-free and neither raises blood sugar at all.
But the biggest difference comes in the form of taste. Stevia is super (seriously--super!) sweet. It’s 250 to 300 times as sweet as sugar. That’s why it has a bit of that artificial sweetener aftertaste, even though it comes from a natural source. Erythritol, is much less sweet, coming in at 60 to 80 percent as sweet as sugar.
Xylitol is another sugar substitute that's a little more well known. It has the same sweetness as sugar with 2 calories for every gram. But its major downside is that it can send you running for the nearest restroom with an upset stomach and diarrhea symptoms. The sugar alcohol sorbitol is less healthy because it's manufactured using hydrogenation and it also has a laxative effect.
Why You Should Be Using Erythritol
For health foodies, artificial sweeteners have gone the way of smoking and trans fats, pretty much everyone knows they’re super unhealthy. But that doesn’t mean you have to submit to the caloric disaster of sugar. The natural sugar substitute erythritol is worth giving a try for a number of reasons.
1. It’s heat stable.
That means that you can add it to all your favorite baked goods.
2. It’s calorie-free and doesn’t impact blood sugar.
These words are so sweet they’re worth repeating. According to researchers at the European Commission, erythritol does not impact blood sugar.
3. It’s safe.
Studies have shown that erythritol is safe and it’s generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the FDA.
4. It’s not overly sweet.
Even before we realized that artificial sweeteners were carcinogenic, back in 1995 when you were sipping on Diet Coke, you likely puckered at the flavor. That’s because it tasted too sweet. Thankfully, this sugar substitute is much less sweet and therefore, tastes realistic.
5. It does not cause tooth decay.
Unlike sugar, you don’t have to worry about damaging your teeth.
How to Use Erythritol
It’s easy to cook and bake with erythritol because it's so similar to sugar. When cooking or baking use 25 percent more erythritol than you would sugar because it’s around 70 percent as sweet. Many people who bake with erythritol will combine it with stevia for added sweetness. You can add it to all sorts of recipes from sorbet to granola to tarts, pies, brownies, cookies, cheesecake, pudding, and the list goes on.
When baking with erythritol, as with other sugar alcohols, you’ll notice a cooling effect in the mouth. This makes it an odd addition to some flavors like peanut butters and certain fruit flavors but a really tasty addition to anything with a peppermint or minty flavor. Try these sugar-free, gluten-free Grasshopper bars.
Brownie image via Shuttershock
Sugar-Free, Gluten Free Grasshopper Bars
Makes 32 small bars
1 cup almond flour
1/2 tsp. xanthan gum
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup cocoa powder
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 large eggs
1/4 cup granulated erythritol
20 drops stevia extract
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 cup almond milk
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups powdered erythritol
1 tsp. peppermint extract
1/3 cup almond milk
5 tbsp butter
1/4 cup powdered erythritol
2 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped fine.
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1. Oil and flour an 8 x 8 pan and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. In a medium bowl, combine almond flour, xanthan gum, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
3. In a small bowl, stir together melted butter and cocoa powder. Set aside
4. In a large bowl, beat cream cheese with electric mixer until smooth. Beat in eggs until combined. Add cocoa mixture and beat until smooth. Combine erythritol, stevia, vanilla, and almond milk. Add half of the almond flour mixture and beat until combined, then repeat with the second half of the almond flour.
5. Spread batter in prepared pan and bake 18 to 22 minutes.
6. For the filling, add butter, erythritol, and peppermint in food processor. Process until combined. Add almond milk, gradually until a smooth, spreadable consistency is achieved. Spread filling over cooled brownie base.
7. For the ganache, melt butter with powdered erythritol in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring until erythritol is dissolved. Add chocolate and cocoa and continue to stir until chocolate has melted and mixture is smooth. Spread over bars.
8. Refrigerate bars until topping is set, at lease one hour.
Recipe adapted from All Day I Dream of Food
Do you bake with erythritol? How does it compare to other sweeteners. Drop us a line on Twitter at @OrganicAuthorit
Tart image via Shuttershock