Birch Sugar (Xylitol), what is it and is it healthy?


In my recipes I often replace the traditional white granulated sugar with birch sugar, Xylitol. I am regularly asked what this is exactly and whether it is healthier than regular sugars. Below I have listed a few things for you. In any case, there will be pros and contras, but at the moment I think it is a good alternative to the refined white granulated sugar.

When it comes to looking for alternatives to traditional refined sugar, birch sugar ranks high. It is a kind of natural sugar that offers many benefits and fewer calories (+/- 40% less) than regular sugars, therefore it can be considered a suitable sugar for diabetics.


Birch sugar is a natural sweetener, extracted from the bark of Finnish birch wood. (Xylitol can also be extracted from eg corncobs, but that is by a different process) However, some manufacturers mix the base product with artificial substances such as sweeteners, which can make you question the healthy benefits. When purchasing, it is therefore very important that you read the origin and composition.

Although birch sugar is a 100% natural sweetener and contains no synthetic additives, chemical procedures are used to extract the substance from the bark. The wood sugar is finely chopped and mixed with water. It is then purified, filtered and completely separated from other substances. In any other way, it is not possible to obtain the xylitol from birch wood.

As for the origin of birch sugar, it can be said that it is a sugar that has been present in our diet for many years. It was discovered in 1891 by Emil Fischer, but its widespread use was not realized until World War II.


  • Xylitol or birch sugar is an alcohol sugar (= name comes from OH compounds, their chemical compound, they do not consist of alcohol). Alcohol sugars are processed in our body in a different way than regular sugar (sucrose). As a result of this process, converting the substance does not produce sudden increases in blood glucose levels. Normal sugar (sucrose) has a high glycemic index, with a value of 70, which causes serious sugar peaks in our body. On the other hand, xylitol has a glycemic index of 7, so very low! This makes it a good sugar substitute for diabetics. In addition, you can replace the white sugar 1 on 1, the sweetening power is similar.
  • Birch sugar provides 40% less calories than regular white sugar.

100 gr white sugar = 402 kcal

100 gr birch sugar = 236 kcal

  • Birch sugar appears to have a positive effect on your teeth. The advantage is that caries-active bacteria cannot process it well. Some studies have even seen a decrease in caries in relation to xylitol. It is therefore logical that birch sugar is often used in chewing gum.


It is recommended not to consume more than about 35 g per day, otherwise you may experience problems with your intestines. The remainder of the product is broken down in the large intestine by the intestinal flora and gases are formed. The most common complaints are therefore flatulence and if you eat too much of it, it appears to have a laxative effect. Be careful because it can be very harmful to pets. (deadly)


As already mentioned, you do not have to convert and you can simply replace the indicated white sugar with the birch sugar. So 1 to 1 ratio.

Unfortunately, Xylitol does not mix or does not mix well with yeast. This is because yeast cannot metabolize the sugar substitute and so the dough would not rise properly.

You can just use birch sugar in cooking and baking without changing the taste. One advantage xylitol has over other sweeteners is its ability to caramelize, just like regular sugar.


Birch sugar is a good substitute for white refined sugar. It causes little or no blood sugar fluctuations, has 40% fewer calories and does not cause tooth decay. You can perfectly cook, bake (however, does not mix with yeast) and caramelize with it. Overuse can have a laxative effect and cause bloating. Do not use it in pet food as this can be harmful.

Other sweeteners that I use in my dishes are the natural local honey, agave syrup or sometimes cane sugar. In any case, I try to limit sugars because, no matter how healthy what you choose, the sweetening power ensures that your body will ask for more sugars … “in moderation” is therefore good advice!






2 responses to “Birch Sugar (Xylitol), what is it and is it healthy?”

  1. Grace Shaffer says:

    This is deceptive. Xylitol can often be DEADLY to pets. Changing the ingredient name to make it more “consumer friendly” is insensitive and wrong.

  2. Patricia de Donder says:

    Hi Grace, you are right… That is why I wrote: “Be careful because it can be very harmful to pets.” And I have written it in bold! I also have pets of my own and it would be a nightmare if something happened to them…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



The maximum upload file size: 20 MB. You can upload: image, audio, video, document, spreadsheet, interactive, other. Links to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other services inserted in the comment text will be automatically embedded. Drop files here

by Patricia

I am Patricia, energetic 40'er, architect, business manager and food blogger. Living in Andalusia but from Flanders - Belgium. Mother of 2 active and creative kids who, together with my husband Geert, form the tasting team of the first order!
Cooking has become a passion. Everything starts with devising an original recipe and that’s when my love for food photography & styling comes across… In my blog you will get to know my healthy Mediterranean fusion cuisine!

Buen provecho!


weekly organiser

Preparation is everything! “Meal prepping” ... Download and print your -Mediterranian kitchen-inspired- weekly planner including shopping list. Need inspiration?

weekly organiser >

A dinner with friends or family? Provides an extra southern atmosphere and listen to my Mediterraneo Spotify list


ESPANA (0034)952-534481
Sign up for our newsletter and stay informed of the latest news and new recipes.