When you hear the word maltitol, what comes to mind? For many, it’s the letter “E-“, as in E-number, the European food additive code.
- Is maltitol one of those E-s?
- Does that mean it’s bad?
What is Maltitol?
Maltitol (C12H24O11; 4-O-α-glucopyranosyl-D-sorbitol) is a disaccharide polyol, with 9 hydroxyl -OH groups in its composition, which comes from the treatment of maltose isolated by vegetal fermentation of starchy cereals, normally corn.
Maltitol is a Halal, vegan and free from Genetically Modified Organisms ingredients.
Properties and Benefits of the sweetener
This sweetener has a set of characteristics that make it an ideal sugar alternative, not only form a nutritional point of view, but sensory too..
Maltitol has a molar mass almost idential to sugar (344 vs 342 grams), with a relative degree of sweetness of 90% (0.9/1 with sugar as a reference), a similar solubility (65 vs 67% in 100mL at 22ºC) and high thermal stability.
So it’s just like sugar then?
Yes, it’s similar, which is why it’s such a promising sweetener.
It also has nutritional benefits:
- Its energy value is almost half (2.4kcal/g vs 4kcal/g).
- Its glycemic index is much lower (35 vs 68).
- It does not lower the pH of the oral cavity, so it is not cariogenic (does not result in tooth decay).
|Physicochemical Properties||White sugar||Maltitol|
|Relative molecular mass||342||344|
|Melting point (ºC)||168-170||144-152|
|Energy value (Kcal/g)||4.0||2.4|
|Glycemic Index (IG)||68||35|
The principal disadvantage of maltitol, like other polyols, is that the characteristic that makes them have fewer calories and a lower glycemic index is based on their poor intestinal absorption.
As they absorb a lower percentage, the nutritional impact is lesser, but the ingested and unabsorbed maltitol has to be eliminated through faeces.
This means that consuming larged quantities of maltitol is associated with adverse gastrointestinal effects: discomfort, flatulence, diarrhoea.
Not everyone has the same sensitivity however, and tolerance to the sweetener improves through its progressive consumption.
What is Maltitol for?
It’s used as:
- Bulking agent: To increase volume in powder mixes and/or for better distribution of an active ingredient in tablets/capsules.
- Humectant: Preventing the drying out of food preparations that are stored in low humidity conditions, within a protective atmosphere.
- Emulsifier: Improving the solubility of two non-miscible phases (fat and water), for example in chocolate.
- Sweetener: Adding sweetness.
- Thickener: Increasing the density and improving the rheology of a liquid mixture.
Maltitol has many uses in the food and pharmaceutical industries.
The principal use is as a sweetener, including for domestic use and in hospitality. The industry uses maltitol because, currently, it is possibly the most sugar-like substitute that exists.
It is used in:
- Chewing gum: To produce its external coating – thanks to its lower hygroscopic level, it keeps it crisp for longer and provides sweetness.
- Ice cream: Prevents crystallisation of the watery fraction and improves the rheology of the milk, increasing the creaminess of the preparation.
- Zero Drinks: Prevents the crystallisation of less stable polyols in water that tend to precipitate and clump.
- Marshmallows and sweeties: Improves the texture, add sweetness, and improves its usage life.
- Jelly: Adds texture and stability, particularly in jellies and jams based on pectin.
- Cakes: To make cakes and sponges, thanks to its great thermal stability, it can be baked without being toasted, acquiring a bitter taste or altering its properties.
Without a doubt, its most widespread use, and the reason you can find it in some HSN preparations, is for chocolate, as is the case with Nutchoco.
For chocolate, maltitol is unrivalled:
- It stabilises the mixture during conching, which is the process of homogenising the cocoa paste and butter, where the creaminess of the material is improved; it also allows it to be treated by decantation, applying high mechanical stress and heat in the transit circuit at more than 80ºC, which is the ideal melting point for cocoa when making chocolate.
- It stabilises chocolates during storage, preventing them from drying out, breaking, melting or suffering other alterations when they are packed.
- It reduces the natural bitterness of cocoa beans.
- It improves the rheology of chocolate by preventing Blooming, which is the process by which the natural sugars and fats in cocoa lose stability and emerge to the surface creating an unpleasant whitish layer with a sandy texture.
The blooming process.
Is maltitol a sweetener for diabetics?
Maltitol is a sweetener that diabetics can use in moderation as a sugar substitute.
Even still, maltitol continues to produce a glycemic and insulinemic response, which although less than that generated by white sugar, still exists.
What precautions do you need to take with maltitol?
Barring exceptional cases (mass consumption), none, as the safety of maltitol has been assessed by food authorities of the calibre of EFSA, JECFA, and the Food Code Committee.
If you buy raw maltitol to use as a sugar substitute in your homemade preparations, simply make sure you avoid using more than 20g per serving and do not exceed 40g per day to prevent digestive problems.
During pregnancy is one contraindication for using maltitol, as its use in high doses (4mg/kg) has been associated with embryotoxic effects by reducing the body weight of the foetus and slowing down its growth.
Is consuming Maltitol safe?
Maltitol is a sweetener approved for human use without DRI (“Dietary Reference Intake”).
“The Committee considers it inappropriate to establish a DRI for these products (polyols), but considers the continued use of maltitol and maltitol-based products acceptable. In view of the limitations due to their laxative action, this factor should be taken into account. The Committee does not consider that long-term studies on these compounds are necessary in view of their metabolism and the fact that long-term studies on sorbitol already exist”
For now, and until the opposite has been demonstrated, the use of maltitol is safe and is not consistently associated with any relevant adverse effect.
How is it shown on product labelling?
Maltitol, as with other polyols, has a regulated caloric potential of 2.4kcal/g.
Sticker for the HSN Dark Chocolate Bar.
And according to Regulation (EC) No 1333/2008 (EC 2008, EU 2011) of European Regulation, all foods containing more than 10% of the authorised added polyols must be labelled with the following statement:
“Excessive consumption may produce laxative effects”
- EC (1985) European Commission Scientific Committee for Food, sixteenth series.
- Saraiva, A., Carrascosa, C., Raheem, D., Ramos, F., & Raposo, A. (2020). Maltitol: Analytical determination methods, applications in the food industry, metabolism and health impacts. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(14), 1–28.
- Erythritol is another widely-used sweetener. Find out all about it by clicking here.
- Sucralose has a much higher sweetening power than sugar… continue reading.