A white crystalline sweetener that was discovered almost simultaneously by French and German scientists in the late 19th century. Xylitol occurs naturally in fruit (such as berries and plums) and vegetables (such as corn and mushrooms). However, most of it is extracted from birch trees, which is why it's also known as birch sugar or wood sugar. Xylitol looks and tastes like regular sugar, though it has a slight (and harmless) cooling effect on the tongue. Gram for gram, xylitol is about as sweet as sucrose but contains roughly 40 percent fewer calories. It may be used measure for measure in cooking and baking and, unlike artificial sweeteners, does not leave a bitter aftertaste. Because it's a low-glycemic sweetener, xylitol has become popular with diabetics.
From The Food Lover's Companion, Fourth edition by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst. Copyright © 2007, 2001, 1995, 1990 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.