Since 1990, erythritol has had a history of safe use as a sweetener and flavor-enhancer in food and beverage products, and is approved for use by government regulatory agencies of more than 60 countries. Beverage categories for its use are coffee and tea, liquid dietary supplements, juice blends, soft drinks, and flavored water product variations, with foods including confections, biscuits and cookies, tabletop sweeteners, and sugar-free chewing gum.
As a test of safety, scientists assessed doses for erythritol where symptoms of mild gastrointestinal upset occurred, such as nausea, excess flatus, abdominal bloating or pain, and stool frequency. The upper limit of tolerance was 1.6% of the beverage or food product per serving, or levels of 0.78 and 0.71 grams per kg body weight in adults and children, respectively. For safe use in children, a scientific panel for the European Food Safety Authority recommended the upper limit content per food or beverage serving was 0.6 grams per kg body weight.
Under U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) labeling requirements, it has a caloric value of 0.2 kilocalories per gram (95% less than sugar and other carbohydrates). The US FDA has not made its own determination regarding the generally recognized as safe (GRAS) status of erythritol, but has accepted the conclusion that erythritol is GRAS as submitted to it by several food manufacturers.
Erythritol does not normally cause laxative effects and gas or bloating, as are often experienced after consumption of other sugar alcohols (such as maltitol, sorbitol, xylitol, and lactitol).Besides the fact that 90% is absorbed before it enters the large intestine, erythritol is also much more difficult for intestinal bacteria to digest.
Large doses can cause nausea and stomach rumbling. In males, doses greater than 0.66 g/kg body weight and in females, doses greater than 0.8 g/kg body weight, will cause laxation, and diarrhea in higher doses (over 50 grams (1.8 oz)). Rarely, erythritol can cause allergic hives (urticaria).
Erythritol is tooth-friendly; it cannot be metabolized by oral bacteria, so it does not contribute to tooth decay. In addition, erythritol, similarly to xylitol, has antibacterial effects against streptococci bacteria, reduces dental plaque, and may be protective against tooth decay.
Erythritol is produced industrially beginning with enzymatic hydrolysis of the starch from corn to generate glucose. Glucose is then fermented with yeast or another fungus to produce erythritol. Other methods such as electrochemical synthesis are in development. A genetically engineered mutant form of Yarrowia lipolytica, a yeast, has been optimized for erythritol production by fermentation, using glycerol as a carbon source and high osmotic pressure to increase yields up to 62%.
Erythritol has a strong cooling effect (endothermic, or positive heat of solution) when it dissolves in water, which is often compared with the cooling effect of mint flavors. The cooling effect is present only when erythritol is not already dissolved in water, a situation that might be experienced in an erythritol-sweetened frosting, chocolate bar, chewing gum, or hard candy. The cooling effect of erythritol is very similar to that of xylitol and among the strongest cooling effects of all sugar alcohols. Erythritol has a pKa of 13.903 at 18 °C.
According to a 2014 study, erythritol functions as an insecticide toxic to the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, impairing motor ability and reducing longevity even when nutritive sugars were available.
Erythritol is preferentially used by the Brucella bacteria spp. The presence of erythritol in the placentas of goats, cattle, and pigs has been proposed as an explanation for the accumulation of Brucella bacteria found at these sites.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, several synonyms were in use for erythritol: erythrol, erythrite, erythoglucin, eryglucin, erythromannite and phycite. Zerose is a tradename for erythritol.