First discovered in 1848, erythritol is a sugar alcohol made by fermenting wheat or corn starch. It has long been used in processed food manufacture, but today it is also a popular alternative sweetener.
Erythritol has only around 6% of the calories of an equivalent amount of sugar, and about 70% of the sweetness. Because the human body does not possess the enzymes needed to digest erythritol, it passes through the system untouched and is excreted in the urine. This means that it does not cause a blood sugar spike in the way that other sugars do, which is good news for diabetics.
Some studies have shown that erythritol does not contribute to tooth decay and plaque in the mouth, and may even have a protective effect on teeth and gums.
Some sugar alcohols are not well tolerated by the body and can cause digestive upsets, but studies have shown that the side effects of erythritol appear to be negligible, even over the longer term.
Erythritol is sold as white powder/granules which look similar to any other sweetener. It can be used in exactly the same way as sugar, for baking, adding to beverages or cooking.