Properties and sources
Sorbitol (C6H14O6) belongs to the sugar alcohols and appears as a white, crystalline powder with a sweet taste, which is very easily soluble in water. It is sold both as a powder and as a solution (sorbitol solution 70%, non-crystallising).
In nature, sorbitol is found in many fruits, e.g. rowan berries, which contain up to 12% sorbitol. Otherwise, especially pears, plums, apples, apricots and peaches are worth mentioning with regard to their high content (pome fruit). Sorbitol is industrially produced from glucose, which is obtained from maize and wheat starch.
Sorbitol is used in many industrially produced foods as a sugar substitute, carrier and humectant (E420).
- Sugar substitute: as a common ingredient in sugar-free syrup. No insulin is needed for metabolism in the body. Therefore, sorbitol is suitable for sweetening diabetic foods and is used in dietary foods. Furthermore, sorbitol is not cariogenic, which means it does not promote tooth decay. Products that are sweetened with sugar alcohols may be called « sugar-free » by law.
- Carrier: for flavours and vitamins and thus as a basis for e.g. food supplements.
- Humectant: thanks to its hygroscopic property, sorbitol protects foods such as chewing gums, biscuits, chocolate and praline fillings from drying out.
Pharmaceutically, sorbitol is primarily used as a laxative, either alone or in combination with other active ingredients. The effect is based on the binding of water in the intestine (osmosis). The pharmaceutical areas of application are e.g. the treatment of constipation and for emptying the bowels before diagnostic procedures. It is given orally (by mouth) or rectally in the form of enemas.
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