Abstract Fermentation characteristics of recombinant Saccharomyces cerevisiae containing a xylose reductase gene from Pichia stipitis were investigated in an attempt to convert xylose to xylitol, a natural five-carbon sugar alcohol used as a sweetener. Xylitol was produced with a maximum yield of 0.95 g g −1 xylitol xylose consumed in the presence of glucose used as a co-substrate for co-factor regeneration. Addition of glucose caused inhibition of xylose transport and accumulation of ethanol. Such problems were solved by adopting glucose-limited fed-batch fermentations where a high ratio of xylose to glucose was maintained during the bioconversion phase. The optimized two-substrate fed-batch fermentation carried out with S. cerevisiae EH13.15:pY2XR at 30°C resulted in 105.2 g l −1 xylitol concentration with 1.69 g l −1 h −1 productivity.