Sorbitol is a starch sweetener often used in diet foods (including diet drinks). It is called a nutritive sweetener because it provides 2.6 calories (11 kilojoules) per gram versus the 4 calories (17 kJ) of sugar and starch.
Sorbitol also occurs naturally in many stone fruits.
Sorbitol is a sugar alcohol, also known as glucitol, obtained from glucose by hydrogenation taking the aldehyde group to an additional hydroxyl group hence the name sugar alcohol. It has properties which are related to those of other polyols as well as the sugars. Sorbitol is manufactured as a clear, colourless viscous liquid 70% w/w.
Diabetic retinopathy and neuropathy may be related to excess sorbitol in the cells of the eyes and nerves. Ingesting large amounts of sorbitol can lead to some abdominal pain, gas, and mild to severe diarrhea.
Sorbitol is widely used in the industry. Following examples will illustrate some of the different applications.
Sorbitol is used in confectionery such as bread, cakes, jellies and creams, as sorbitol will keep the water content at a fixed level, preserve the freshness and prevent deterioration.
Sorbitol is used as a cryoprotectant additive (mixed with sucrose and sodium poly-phosphates) in the manufacture of surimi, a highly refined, uncooked fish paste.
Sorbitol is also used is beverages to harmonize flavours.
Sorbitol is often used in making cosmetic creams and milky lotions as a humectant and thickener. It also provides a freshing feeling when cosmetics are applied to the skin. Some transparent gels can only be made with sorbitol as it has a refractive index sufficiently high for transparent formulations.
Another application is in toothpaste, which due to the inclusion of sorbitol, give good resistance to fermentation and provide a refreshing sweetness to the mouth.
Sorbitol is used in the preparation of synthetic vitamin-C. It is also used as a stabilizer in pharmaceutical products.
Sorbitol can be used for manufacturing surfactants of the non-ionic type - widely used in food, cosmetic, dyes and paints.
Sorbitol combined with dry fatty acids gives an excellent protective coating.
Sorbitol is also used as a humectant in some cigarettes.