Polyol (Sugar Alcohol) Analyses - Microchem
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Microchem Sugar Alcohol Testing

Polyol (Sugar Alcohol) Analyses

In response to developments in nutritional labelling requirements, Microchem has extended its scope of service to include the analysis of sugar alcohols (polyols), and has recently obtained SANAS accreditation for these analyses.

Sugar Alcohols

Sugar alcohols, scientifically known as polyols, are types of carbohydrate components with a hybrid chemical structure that resembles both sugars and alcohol. While these compounds are neither sugars or alcohols (they do not contain ethanol as alcoholic beverages do) they do have a comparable sweetness to their sugar counterparts whilst contributing on average only around 50% of the calories per gram as compared to sugar.

As a result of this, polyols are being used in the food manufacturing industry as a replacement or alternative to the use of conventional sugar. In the example below, the structural similarities and differences between the disaccharide, Lactose, and the polyol, Lactitol, can be seen.

Due to the differences in the structure of these molecules the polyols are not as readily absorbed and metabolized as regular sugar compounds, and therefore elicit a lower glycemic response when consumed as compared to sugar.

Sugar alcohols occur naturally in small quantities in certain plant foods such as fruits, berries and vegetables, but are commercially produced from other carbohydrates such as sucrose, glucose and starch.

Examples of sugar alcohols are:

  • Erythritol
  • Glycerol
  • Isomalt
  • Lactitol
  • Maltitol
  • Mannitol
  • Sorbitol
  • Xylitol

Energy Contribution

Sugar alcohols are classified as nutritive sweeteners but have the advantage that their caloric content per gram is less than that of sugars. The sweetness of the individual sugar alcohols are measured against that of sucrose, with Xylitol displaying the same relative sweetness as sucrose, while Erythritol has a relative sweetness of 70 % against sucrose but has a reduced energy contribution of only 1 kJ per gram. See table 1 below for a summary of the energy content of a range of polyols.

Relative Sweetness and energy of Polyols

Table 1: Relative sweetness and energy content of polyols

Product Labelling – The Nutritional Information Table

When a sugar alcohol is being used as an ingredient in a product, the polyol content should be declared in the Nutritional Information Table under the breakdown of the total carbohydrate content of the product.

Please refer to figure 3 below which indicates the prescribed format of the Nutritional Information Table for a product that contains polyols. The total measured polyol content per 100g/ml is declared in the table, while the individual polyols that are present in the product will be listed under the ingredient list

Changes in the Nutritional Information Table Format

Typical food applications

Polyols are being used in a wide range of food and confectionary products. Some of the common uses of polyols are given below.

  • Sorbitol, Maltitol: Used in sugar-free candies, chewing gums, frozen desserts and baked goods.
  • Xylitol: Used in chewing gum, gum drops and hard candy, pharmaceuticals and oral health products, such as throat lozenges, cough syrups, children’s chewable multivitamins, toothpastes and mouthwashes.
  • Isomalt:  Used in candies, toffee, lollipops, fudge, wafers, cough drops and throat lozenges.
  • Lactitol: Used in chocolate, some baked goods (cookies and cakes), hard and soft candies and frozen dairy desserts.
  • Mannitol: Used as a dusting powder for chewing gum, also as an ingredient in chocolate-flavoured coating agents for ice cream and confections.
  • Erythritol: Used as a bulk sweetener in low calorie foods.

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