What is the Difference Between Sorbitol and Xylitol

The key difference between sorbitol and xylitol is that sorbitol is the most common sweetener used in sugarless gums since it’s less expensive, whereas xylitol is useful as a sugar substitute in sugar-free gums, candies, and mints but it is more expensive than sorbitol.

Sugar-free candies, gums, and mints are popular today because these items do not increase blood sugar levels considerably like glucose-containing substances.

CONTENTS

1. Overview and Key Difference
2. What is Sorbitol  
3. What is Xylitol
4. Sorbitol vs Xylitol in Tabular Form
5. Summary – Sorbitol vs Xylitol

What is Sorbitol?

Sorbitol can be defined as a sugar alcohol having a sweet taste. This substance occurs mainly in potato starch. It can slowly metabolize inside the human body. We can obtain this substance via glucose reduction. In this reduction process, the aldehyde group of glucose changes into a primary alcohol group. Therefore, sorbitol is an alcohol. Sorbitol occurs as a naturally occurring compound, e.g. in apples, pears, peaches, etc. However, we mostly obtain sorbitol from potato starch.

When synthesized, sorbitol appears as a white crystalline powder. The major pathway of production is the glucose reduction reaction in which the aldehyde group is converted into an alcohol group. This reaction requires NADH and occurs in the presence of a catalyst – aldose reductase. Glucose reduction is a pathway of polyol production in glucose metabolism.

Figure 01: Sorbitol Molecule

There are several applications of sorbitol: as an artificial sweetener, as a laxative, as a bacterial culture media, in treating hyperkalemia, in the manufacture of soft gel capsules, etc. Sorbitol is also useful in the cosmetic industry as a humectant and as a thickener. Besides, there are miscellaneous uses of sorbitol, such as the manufacture of rocket fuel, production of biomass resources, etc.

What is Xylitol?

Xylitol can be named as a chemical compound having the formula C2H12O5. It is a stereoisomer and exists as a colorless or white crystalline solid that is water-soluble. Xylitol can be categorized as a polyalcohol or sugar alcohol (an alditol). It is generally useful as a food additive to replace sugar in food and drugs. Therefore, it is named as a sugar substituent.

Figure 02: Xylitol Sugar Crystals

Xylitol is a naturally occurring organic compound (in small amounts) in plums, strawberries, cauliflower, pumpkin, etc. Moreover, humans and many animals also make trace amounts of xylitol during the metabolism of carbohydrates. Xylitol is an achiral compound. That means it has a plane of symmetry.

The industrial production of xylitol starts with lignocellulosic biomass from which xylan is extracted. The raw biomass material that can be used includes hardwood, softwood, agricultural waste from processing wheat, etc. Xylan is a polymer that we can hydrolyze into xylose, which is then catalytically hydrogenated into xylitol. This type of conversion changes the sugar xylose into the primary alcohol, xylitol.

There are many applications of xylitol as a sugar substituent. The products include drugs, dietary supplements, confections, toothpaste, chewing gum, etc. But it isn’t a common household sweetener. More importantly, this compound has a negligible effect on blood sugar levels because xylitol undergoes metabolism independently of insulin.

What is the Difference Between Sorbitol and Xylitol?

The key difference between sorbitol and xylitol is that sorbitol is the most common sweetener used in sugarless gums due to its less expensive nature, whereas xylitol is useful as a sugar substitute in sugar-free gums, candies, and mints but it is more expensive than sorbitol.

The below infographic presents the differences between sorbitol and xylitol in tabular form for side by side comparison.

Summary – Sorbitol vs Xylitol

Sorbitol can be defined as a sugar alcohol having a sweet taste, and this substance occurs mainly in potato starch. Xylitol can be named as a chemical compound having the formula C2H12O5. The key difference between sorbitol and xylitol is that sorbitol is the most common sweetener used in sugarless gums due to its less expensive nature, whereas xylitol is useful as a sugar substitute in sugar-free gums, candies, and mints but it is more expensive than sorbitol.