Did you know… that Saccharin was the first artificial sweetener?
Saccharin was first made from coal tar in 1879 but its use has declined recently as it has been replaced by newer sweeteners.
Like all of these calorie free sweeteners, saccharin is several hundred times sweeter than sugar but unfortunately it has a bitter after taste and is destroyed during cooking. Aspartame (NutraSweet, Canderel) which has almost no bitter taste was introduced around 25 years ago and is made up of two amino acids, aspartic acid and phenylalanine but because so little is used the calories these provide are negligible. People with a rare inherited condition called phenylketonuria must avoid foods with phenylalanine hence the warning on food and drinks containing aspartame that it contains phenylalanine. The latest sweetener to hit the market is sucralose (Splenda) which is made from cane sugar but it is chemically modified so that it is 600 times sweetener than sugar but cannot be metabolised for energy and most of it is not absorbed from the gut. Unlike the previous two, sucralose is very heat stable so it can be used in cooking although it does not have the effects upon texture or the browning effects of sugar.
As with most other food additives, there have been many claims about the hazards of artificial sweeteners. Saccharin in very large doses was shown in the 1970s to cause bladder tumours in rats but is still considered by regulators in most countries to be safe in the amounts that humans consume. Many claims have been made about ill effects of aspartame but after very thorough consideration of the evidence the British and European regulators consider it safe even in amounts that are several times that likely to be consumed by people (unless they have the condition phenylketonuria). Any chemical, even vitamins and essential minerals, can be toxic if enough is taken.
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