Isomalt, also called hydrogenated isomaltose, isomaltitol or isobyalt (trademark), is a sugar substitute obtained from sucrose (common sugar), mainly from beets. Despite its natural origin, isomalt is generally considered artificial because the natural sugar is chemically manipulated to obtain it. Its most common use is as a sweetener in the food industry; isomalt-sweetened products can be labeled “sugar-free” because of their low impact on blood glucose, although they provide calories (2 kcal/g, half that of regular sugar) and do not damage tooth enamel. It is also widely used as a preservative.
history and production
Isomalt was discovered in the 1960s and first industrially manufactured in the early 1980s by the German company BENEO-Palatinit. It quickly became popular in Europe. It was not approved for human use in the United States until 1990. It is now an authorized additive in most countries and is highly popular in modern creative bakery.
The production of isomalt is a bit tricky. First, glucose and natural fructose are obtained from beets, which are transformed, usually with heat, into sucrose (the carbohydrate we know as regular sugar). This product is reductively transformed into isomatulose (the disaccharide 6-O-α-D-glucopyranoside-D-fructose); this substance is hydrogenated to finally obtain isomalt, a substance with many characteristics shared with sugar, but very poorly digestible, which means that it has a very low impact on the glycemic index and is considered safe for diabetics Isomalt is also a non-cariogenic sweetener (not induces caries).
From a chemical point of view, isomalt is a polyalcohol (also called sugar alcoholics) derived from sucrose. Its molecular formula is C12H24ANYEleven and is equivalent to an equimolar mixture of two disaccharides, glucomannitol (6-O-α-D-glucopyranoside-1,6-mannitol) and glucosorbitol (6-O-α-D-glucopyranoside-1,6 -sorbitol). Complete hydrolysis of isomalt yields 50% glucose, 25% sorbitol and 25% mannitol.
It is a white, odorless substance with a crystalline structure that contains approximately 5% water of crystallization.
most common uses
The main use of isomalt, by far, is as a sweetener in “sugar-free” products, especially in food preparations and other products such as medicines (syrups, pills, etc). Isomalt can be used to sweeten foods, but because it is poorly digestible, it raises blood sugar levels very little and has a much lower caloric intake than sugar (2 kcal/g, approximately half as much sugar; is used , therefore, in “sugar-free” but not “calorie-free” products). It also has no cariogenic effect on tooth enamel, so it is also used to improve the taste of toothpastes.
It is often combined with other sweeteners, such as sucralose, to achieve a sweetness more similar to that of regular sugar. These products can be purchased, but you should keep in mind that they behave differently than regular sugar. For example, it doesn’t caramelize as quickly and can’t be used for baking. Isomalt mixtures that are sold for baking and that can be baked are often treated with products that give them a bad taste if consumed alone, such as acesulfame-k.
Isomalt also has food preservation properties and this quality is used in some sweet products such as breakfast cereals, cookies and candies. It tends to stabilize other ingredients, can prevent mold growth, and helps keep dry products crispy for longer.
Isomalt is widely used for decorative purposes by many chefs and is a common product in creative confectionery. Isomalt is preferred over regular sugar because of its shinier, more transparent appearance, more moisture resistance, and easier workability to sculpt the desired shape.
Isomalt is a polyol that is poorly digested by the human digestive system and, like most polyols (xylitol, sorbitol, mannitol, etc.), with the exception of erythritol, its consumption in relatively high amounts can cause digestive disorders such as flatulence and diarrhea. These effects are mainly due to the fact that it is not digested, so it acts as dietary fiber.
To avoid suffering from these side effects of isomalt It is recommended to limit your daily consumption to 50 g for adults and 25 g for children. Some studies suggest that regular consumption can create a certain tolerance, decreasing the incidence of side effects, but others can appear in the long term.