As all polyols, sorbitol and sorbitol syrup are sugar alcohols or hydrogenated carbohydrates. They are also known as sugar substitutes, bulk sweeteners or sugar-free sweeteners. Sorbitol can be found naturally in seaweed, in ash berries and in various starchy fruits: plums, apples, cherries. Especially rich of it are stone and dried fruits. Suffice it to say that 100 grams of prunes or dried pears are containing at least 10 grams of sorbitol, dried plums (normally) and hips are containing 8 grams of sorbitol, and dried apricots - 5 grams. Sorbitol is found even in beer.
Raw materials for sorbitol commercial production are mainly sourced from maize, wheat and tapioca starches. Industrially sorbitol is obtained by the catalytic hydrogenation under pressure of dextrose and of glucose syrups. The end product consists essentially of D-sorbitol, and might include some hydrogenated saccharides (e.g. mannitol, maltitol …).
The mannitol and other reducing sugar assays are regulated by sanitary norms.
Food grade sorbitol in its both commercialized sorts - sorbitol syrup and crystalline sorbitol powder – is supplied on the raw material market.
Annual sorbitol world production is about 800 thousand tons.
What are products the sorbitol used in?
With its specific nutritional and technological properties (European safety number E 420; International number INS 420) sorbitol has been used for decades in a large range of foodstuffs.
Sorbitol is often used as a humectant and stabilizer in bakery and pastry applications, extending shelf-life by maintaining the food moisture.
It is also used as a plasticizer in the tobacco industry. While cigarette manufacturing, sorbitol substitutes the glycerol and it does not produce any acrolein when burned. As the moisture- conserving agent it is used in the fishing industry for the roe made products.
Scientific evidence has shown sorbitol health benefice when used in people’s food. The sorbitol containing product consumption instead of sugar may help maintaining health by decreasing tooth demineralization. After meals, sorbitol causes a lower glucose blood level compared to the sugar containing product consumed. For example, its sweetness and low caloric value make sorbitol a preferred ingredient in sugar-free confectionery and energy-reduced products.
Most important intermediate in ascorbic acid (vitamin C) production, sorbitol is consumed to this process for 15% of its world production. Besides, sorbitol is largely used as pharmaceutical filler. Drugs, tablets and chewing gums contain sorbitol as basic sweetener. Sorbitol might be used in mixtures with sweetener intensifiers. Due to its choleretic effect, sorbitol is used for tubage against, for example, chronic cholecystitis. It also could be found in cough syrups and laxatives.
An humectant, a skin conditioning and flavouring agent, sorbitol is used in cosmetics and personal care products.
For a part or on the whole, sorbitol is a sort of cometics glycerin substitute. It retains skin moisture, and softens touch. Sorbitol is used for creams, lotions, gels, lipsticks, masks, aftershaves and shaving creams shampoos and hair conditioners.
Recognized ideal for personal care applications, sorbitol is used as base for toothpaste and mouthwash. Thanks to its humectant function, sorbitol prevents toothpaste from drying out and makes it viscous enough. Moreover, due to a strongly pronounced cooling effect in mouth, sorbitol protects from caries and fits perfectly to produce mouthwash liquids recipes.
Sorbitol is considered a key chemical ingredient for biomass production. Full sorbitol recovery allows getting alkanes, such as hexane, usable as biofuel.
Sorbitol itself contains hydrogen enough for a reaction:
19 C6O6H14 → 13 C6H14 + 36 CO2 + 42 H2O takes place.
Just as other polyols, such as glycerin and etc, sorbitol is involved in producing of alkyl resins and rigid polyurethane foams.
Textile and leather industry
In the textile sorbitol is used as fabric softener and color stabilizer while dyeing. As the softener it is also used in leather industries