USDA Agricultural Research: Sugar Substitute Xylitol

Published online: Sep 19, 2006 USDA ARS
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Genetically engineered bacteria that eat hemicellulose in corn fiber and other sources could set the stage for a new, biobased method of making xylitol, a mint-flavored sweetener used in chewing gum, toothpaste, mouthwash and other products. Agricultural Research Service (ARS) chemist Badal Saha and collaborators developed the modified bacteria-patent-pending strains of Escherichia coli-through a cooperative agreement with zuChem, Inc., of Chicago, and the Biotechnology Research and Development Corporation in Peoria, Ill. Xylitol is produced naturally by many fruits and vegetables, and even to some degree by the human body. It is used as a sugar substitute because it has one-third fewer calories, imparts a cool mint flavor, helps fight cavity-causing bacteria, and can pass through the human gut without involving insulin.