Artificial Sweeteners

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

  • About

artificial sweeteners are industrially produced substitutes for sugar, intended for those who want or need to curtail their intake of sucrose. One could argue that the taste of sweet “discovered” artificial sweeteners. Saccharin, the first artificial sweetener, was identified in the 1870s when a scientist at Johns Hopkins University licked his finger and found it shockingly sweet. Sodium cyclamate, the second sweetener to be discovered, emerged as marketable in the 1930s when a graduate student at the University of Illinois placed his lit cigarette on a lab bench (where a bit of the substance had landed), only to find the next puff unexpectedly sweet. Aspartame, better known as NutraSweet, came to market only after a pharmaceutical chemist licked his finger mid-experiment and tasted sweetness. And sucralose, or Splenda, first appeared in the 1970s when a research chemist, while working with sucrose (table sugar), told a colleague to “test” one of the resulting compounds. Hearing “taste” rather than “test,” the scientist did so and found it intensely sweet.