During World War II, Finland was suffering from an acute sugar shortage. With no domestic supply of sugar, the Finns searched for an alternative. It was then that the Finnish scientists rediscovered xylitol, a low-calorie sugar made from birch bark. It had, in fact, been known to the world of organic chemistry since it was first manufactured in 1891 by a German chemist.
By 1930, xylitol had been purified, but it wasn’t until World War II that the sugar shortages forced researchers to look at alternative sweeteners. It was only when xylitol was stabilized that it became a viable sweetener in foods. It was also during this time that researchers discovered xylitol’s insulin-independent nature. (It metabolizes in the body without using insulin.)
By the 1960s, xylitol was being used in Germany, Switzerland, the Soviet Union, and Japan as a preferred sweetener in diabetic diets and as an energy source for infusion therapy in patients with impaired glucose tolerance and insulin resistance. Since then, many other countries, including Italy and China, have been producing xylitol for use in their domestic markets-and with remarkable health benefits. It has been relatively unknown in the U.S.A. and Australia, primarily because cheap supplies of cane sugar made the more expensive xylitol less economically. viable.