What is xylitol?

Granular xylitol on a red background with a teaspoonXylitol is a natural sweetener that I often use in my recipes. Although it’s found in small quantities in many fibrous fruits and vegetables, its purified and manufactured form is usually made from birch sap. Some companies also manufacture it from corn.


The origins of xylitol use can be traced to the 19th century Europe where it was used for sweetening. However, the first large-scale manufacturing of xylitol began in Finland in 1974 when sugar-free chewing gums were introduced in the country. Shortly afterwards the United States followed suit, and since then other countries have gradually adopted its use.

You can now find xylitol in all sorts of products, including chewing gums, confectionary, dietetic and diabetic foods, toothpastes, mouthwashes, cosmetics and various pharmaceutical products, such as syrups and chewable tablets.


There are several reasons for xylitol’s increasing popularity:

  • It only has 40% of the calories of ordinary sugar, so it can aid weight loss.
  • It has a low glycaemic index and it’s metabolised independently of insulin. This makes it suitable for diabetics as well as for those on low GI and GL diets.
  • It does not cause tooth decay like sugar does, so it’s better for oral health.
  • It does not provide sugar for candida and other yeasts to thrive on, but actually inhibits them. However, this is only the case with xylitol made from birch.


The potential downside of xylitol for human beings is its laxative effect if consumed in excess. It’s generally advised that adults should not exceed 40 g of xylitol daily. However, this amount varies depending on the individual’s susceptibility and weight.

Xylitol should be eaten by humans only. It’s toxic to dogs and other animals, so don’t feed it to your pets. If your dog happens to eat something with xylitol in it, contact the vet immediately.

A great sugar substitute for sweet treats

Xylitol has a similar sweetness level, taste and bulk as ordinary sugar which makes it an ideal sugar substitute. However, there are certain differences in the way it behaves when used in treat making. You can read more about that in Making treats with xylitol.

© Tarja Moles 2012. Photo © Tarja Moles

If you’d like to use this article in your ezine or on your website, you’re welcome to do so as long as you use the complete article, including the copyright line, and include the following paragraph in its entirety:

Tarja Moles is the author of No Naughties: Sweet Treats without Sugar, Wheat, Gluten and Yeast. Visit www.nonaughties.com for free recipes and information on special diets and living with multiple dietary restrictions.


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