What is Xylitol?
One artificial sweetener getting a lot of face time is xylitol. It is one of several sugar substitutes that have been approved by the FDA. To its additional credit it is also approved by dentists as safe for teeth. You don’t always see that, since sugar is one of the culprits of tooth decay. So, this is a big win for people with sweet teeth everywhere.
What is xylitol actually? It is a tree sugar much like regular table sugar and other sugar substitutes. It is manufactured from the birch tree. Regular sugar comes from sugar cane and is processed and refined into the white crystalline substance we use today. Xylitol is also crystalline and white when it is processed.
It is a bulk sugar, which means that only part of it is digested and utilized by the body. For this reason it can be classed as a low-calorie carbohydrate. The bulk makes it almost half as calorific as regular sugar.
So how can it help your teeth? Well, it is used as an artificial sweetener in many sugarless gums. Some early sugarless gums contained saccharine which left a bad taste in your mouth, but xylitol does not. In fact, it is just as sweet as if you were eating gum made with sugar, only the taste lasts longer.
How is this possible? Well, the substance in xylitol has a molecular structure that contains five carbons. As such, it does not react with bacteria in the mouth. Bacteria in the mouth react with sugars to form acids that can erode enamel on teeth and lead to cavities. Because this sweetener doesn’t ferment in the presence of bacteria, it helps the mouth maintain a neutral pH instead of tending towards the acidic.
In fact, using candy and gum that is sweetened with xylitol can reduce the amount of bad bacteria in the mouth. Your breath smells better and you have lower incidence of tooth problems. When used in combination with other tooth-preserving techniques (brushing and flossing), your mouth tends to stay healthier and you satisfy your sweet tooth.
So, what can you use xylitol for in your kitchen? Since it is crystalline like regular sugar you can use it in coffee, tea, lemonade and other drinks. You may not want to use it alone in your recipes but you can mix it with sugar so that you use less sugar for a healthier treat.