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Friday, July 27, 2007

Say Hello to Xylitol

posted by on July 27 at 14:12 PM

Last night at the Hideout, I was talking to Jennifer Borges Foster and she interrupted me and said, “Are you drinking peach schnapps?” She smelled something on my breath. I was, in fact, drinking water. But I was chewing a piece of this—I took it out and showed her:


A couple minutes later, I was talking to Brangien Davis and she said, “What do I smell? Are you drinking peach schnapps?” I showed her the gum. “Can I try it?” she said. She put it in her mouth. I told her to anticipate tropical peach, with an edge of mint. She turned to the person next to her. “You should try this.” And then to me: “Do you have another piece?”

I had one piece left, but I am nothing if not generous. As I was digging it out of the package, Davis took an interest in the packaging and, in particular, the two words there to the right: “WITH XYLITOL.” What is xylitol? Why does it begin with an x? Will we grow an extra ear if we continue to chew it? She requested a full investigation, and as she was making this request there was a small explosion behind the bar, a liquid explosion, and all of us got hit with little droplets of something. The source of the flying liquid was never ascertained.

Davis said, “I blame xylitol.”

On the way home from the Hideout, I stopped in a grocery store and bought Tropical Twist Trident’s competitor, Citrusmint Orbit.


Huh. No mention of xylitol anywhere on the cover of the packaging. But further investigation of the miniscule text on the sides found this (blown up big so you can read it):


There it is. Xylitol. OK, xylitol: who are you and what do you want with us? Per Davis’s request, a full investigation (2 minutes on Wikipedia) has been conducted, and lo and behold, xylitol is not some awful, awful, third-ear-growing agent, but a rather docile sugar-alcohol. It is “a naturally occurring sweetener found in the fibers of many fruits and vegetables, including various berries, corn husks, oats, and mushrooms. It can be extracted from corn fiber, birch, raspberries, plums, and corn.”

Cute! But wait—there’s more!

Xylitol was first derived from Birch trees in Finland in the 19th century and was first popularized in Europe as a safe sweetener for diabetics that would not impact insulin levels…

More on Finland, the country xylitol calls home:

Xylitol is widely used in Finland, its “home country.” Many Finnish confectioneries employ xylitol, or have a xylitol version available. Virtually all chewing gum sold in Finland, as well as the rest of Europe is sweetened with xylitol.

Although, culturally, xylitol gets around:

In China, Japan and South Korea, xylitol is found in wide assortment of chewing gums. China, Korea and Japan even have a brand of gum named “Xylitol”, Japan also has a brand called “Xylish”. In addition, when Extra introduced xylitol-containing products to Hong Kong and Guangdong, the word “xylitol” is transcribed into Cantonese as “???” (Jyutping: saai3 lok6 to4), which literally means “suntan camel”, and the camel is used as a figurative icon in its advertisements.

Oh, and:

Xylitol is a “toothfriendly” sugar. In addition to not encouraging tooth decay (by replacing dietary sugars), xylitol may actively aid in repairing minor cavities caused by dental caries. Recent research confirms a plaque-reducing effect and suggests that the compound, having some chemical properties similar to sucrose, attracts and then “starves” harmful micro-organisms, allowing the mouth to remineralize damaged teeth with less interruption.


Xylitol also appears to have potential as a treatment for osteoporosis. A group of Finnish researchers has found that dietary xylitol prevents weakening of bones in laboratory rats, and actually improves bone density.

Plus, did I mention—

Studies have shown that xylitol chewing gum can help prevent ear infections…

I’m sorry, there’s just so much—

ASICS Corp., a Japanese company, markets a line of women’s t-shirts with xylitol infused into the fabric. Xylitol, like several other sugar alcohols, exhibits a cooling effect in the mouth. The t-shirts are intended to utilize this same property to keep a person cooler in warm weather.

Downsides: it’s a mild laxative (hasn’t had this effect on yours truly) and one time scientists fed a standard poodle a shitload of xylitol and it died.

Somewhat off topic: I’m starting a band called Berries, Corn Husks, Oats, and Mushrooms.

RSS icon Comments


One piece of xylitol gum wont give you the runs. However, if you replace all the sugar in a super sweet baked treat (oh, lets say something like fudge or cupcakes) with xylitol, then yes, it'll clear you right out. Um, so I've heard. (You can buy xylitol at places like PCC & Whole Foods, it's packaged just like regular granulated sugar and can be subbed in recipes 1:1. Just don't overdo it!)

Posted by meh | July 27, 2007 2:28 PM

I thing the name might originate from xylem which is the part of plants that carries water and nutriends from the roots to the leaves.

Posted by Morgan | July 27, 2007 2:30 PM

I think the name probably originates from the term xylem which it the series of tubular cells that conducts water and nutriends from the roots to the leaves of plants.

Posted by Morgan | July 27, 2007 2:33 PM

I can't spell. also see:

Posted by morgan | July 27, 2007 2:35 PM

Gum is so crazy artificial it blows my mind. I mean, it's basically a dozen mispronounceable chemicals compressed into a convenient quadrilateral stick that NEVER fucking disappears. What legacy are we leaving to our children, when we're all gone and our mounds of chewed gum lie scattered across the globe?

Posted by Virginia | July 27, 2007 2:36 PM

Or smashed into the sidewalk.

Posted by keshmeshi | July 27, 2007 2:51 PM

you're my favorite.

Posted by kim | July 27, 2007 3:10 PM

One of our dental carriers pimps this gum at our health fairs: It's tasty but the flavor doesn't last too long.

Posted by Jez | July 27, 2007 3:15 PM

Umm, Virginia? Most modern gum may be artificial, but gum is not. People have been chewing gum in some form at least since Ancient Greece, and until very recently all commercial gum was made from chicle. Now they use synthetic bases because it's cheaper.

Posted by Gum = History | July 27, 2007 3:35 PM

Things like this often remind me of an interesting item my wife and I came across while antique shopping in rural Virginia: a water cooler that advertised radium in the glass, to energize drinking water with invigorating radiation. Evidently someone noticed that radiation burns healed without scarring and decided that radiation must therefore be good for you.

They used to put radium in toothpaste. They made glow-in-the-dark radium body paint.

I am eternally skeptical of highly synthesized miracle ingredients.

Posted by Judah | July 27, 2007 4:09 PM

If you would read the article, you would see that xylitol is NOT a highly synthesized miracle ingredient.

Posted by Fnarf | July 27, 2007 4:52 PM

ur a d0rk. 'Sides, that doesn't dismiss gum's mind-blowing qualities, nor the looming crisis of billions of smeared sticks that our progeny will be burdened with. So there.

Posted by Virginia | July 27, 2007 7:33 PM

I have noticed that chewing a lot olf zylitol infused gum causes my taste buds to swell and sting for 1-2 days after so I tend to lay off the stuff though I have read about it's many wonderous benefits and am suitably impressed. You may note from the label that sorbitol, aspartame and other stuff are in the gum. Back in the day when I was a kid there was always a warning label that some of the ingredients were known to cause cancer in lab rats. Has the bubble gum and food industry in America lobbied to get those warnings taken off of labels?? Somehow I don't think our food products are getting any safer judging by the press, we are just less informed. The Trident gum is also made in Mexico which has a record of importing kids candy that contains lead and other delightful suprises(an American mainstream manufactorer just got in trouble again recently for continuing to import dangerous candy). I don't want to put a negative tilt on things because I would be ever so happy to have a product that is delightfully wholesome and healthy. Trident and other gums just don't seem to be it though........

Posted by zgirl | July 27, 2007 7:43 PM

Citrusmint? Does it taste like a gulp or orange juice right after brushing your teeth? Eww.

Posted by JakeLunden | July 27, 2007 10:08 PM

he can do extensive research into xylitol but he can't manage a Books column every week? WTF?

Posted by sally | July 28, 2007 9:58 AM

birch sugar is great. it's cooling and it metabolizes much more slowly than regular sugar and most people that can't eat regular sugar for one reason or another can eat it without problems. i have seen the xylitol in health food stores, but i haven't purchased it under that name yet nor have i looked at it very closely. i assume it's straight birch sugar.

there's something about the name xylitol that i have a hard time remembering and i have been using this brand for a long time and i love it!

Posted by sweet tooth | July 28, 2007 1:43 PM

Great posts, Christopher. More, more!

Posted by fun shaped | July 28, 2007 1:50 PM

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