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Nutrition Section

Saccharin - Artificial sweetener

Ira RemsenConstantin Fahlberg

How sweet was the swindle! Depending on which story you believe saccharin was discovered by Ira Remsen or Constantin Fahlberg.Even today there is still debate over who actually discovered Saccharin.

The discovery of Saccharin according to Remsen :

1879 Ira Remsen made the greatest discovery of his career by accident. When he ate rolls at dinner after a long day in the lab researching coal tar derivatives, he noticed that the rolls tasted initially sweet but then bitter. Since his wife tasted nothing strange about the rolls, Remsen tasted his fingers and noticed that the bitter taste was probably from one of the chemicals in his lab. The next day at his lab he tasted the chemicals that he had been working with the previous day and discovered that it was the oxidation of o-toluenesulfonamide he had tasted the previous evening. He named the substance saccharin and he and his research partner Constantin Fahlberg published their finding in 1880. Later Remsen became angry after Fahlberg patented saccharin, claiming that he had discovered it.

The discovery of Saccharin according to Fahlberg:

Saccharin was first produced in 1878 by Constantin Fahlberg, a chemist working on coal tar derivatives in Ira Remsen's laboratory at the Johns Hopkins University. Fahlberg and Remsen published articles on benzoic sulfimide in 1879 and 1880. In 1884, now working on his own in New York City, Fahlberg applied for patents in several countries describing methods of producing this substance that he named saccharin. Fahlberg would soon grow wealthy, while Remsen merely grew irate, believing that he deserved credit for substances produced in his laboratory. On the matter, Remsen commented, "Fahlberg is a scoundrel. It nauseates me to hear my name mentioned in the same breath with him."

Sweet N Low saccharain sachet

"Sweet N Low" is a popular Saccharin based non-sugar sweetener.

Properties of Saccharin

Saccharin has an intense sweet taste that disappears leaving a metallic taste in the mouth. For this reason it is often combined with other sweetners to mask the aftertaste. Saccharin is unstable when heated but it does not react chemically with other food ingredients. As such, it stores well. Blends of saccharin with other sweeteners are often used to compensate for each sweetener's weaknesses and faults. A 10:1 cyclamate : saccharin blend is common in countries where both these sweeteners are legal; in this blend, each sweetener masks the other's off-taste. Saccharin is often used together with aspartame in diet soda, so that some sweetness remains should the fountain syrup be stored beyond aspartame's relatively short shelf life. Saccharin is believed to be an important discovery, especially for diabetics, as it goes directly through the human digestive system without being digested. Although saccharin has no food energy, it can trigger the release of insulin in humans and rats, apparently as a result of its taste, as can other sweeteners like aspartame.

Sugar free confectionery with saccharin

Saccharin is one of the most common sweeteners used in sugar free confectionery.

In its acid form, saccharin is not water-soluble. The form used as an artificial sweetener is usually its sodium salt. The calcium salt is also sometimes used, especially by people restricting their dietary sodium intake. Both salts are highly water-soluble.

Uses of saccharine

Its use was fairly limited until the two World Wars when sugar rationing created a tremendous need for a sugar substitute both in the U.S. and Europe. Saccharin was up to the challenge. After World War II, and on into the 1960s, as the modern American interest in weight control developed, saccharin’s use and popularity continued to grow. For more than 100 years, saccharin has been a low-calorie alternative to sugar.

Toothpasts are sugar free

Toothpastes use saccharin and other sugar substitutes

The availability of saccharin and other low-calorie sweeteners allows manufacturers to use the most appropriate sweetener, or combination of sweeteners, for a given product, depending on it's properties. In fact, saccharin is the foundation for many low-calorie and sugar-free products around the world. It is used in tabletop sweeteners, baked goods, jams, chewing gum, canned fruit, candy, dessert toppings and salad dressings. It also is useful in cosmetic products, vitamins and pharmaceuticals. It is popular (especially in Europe) in sweetener blends for various products.

Saccharin and it's link to Cancer

Starting in 1907, the US Dept. of Agriculture began investigating saccharin as a direct result of the Pure Food and Drug Act. Harvey Wiley, then the director of the bureau of chemistry for the USDA, viewed it as an illegal substitution of a valuable ingredient (sugar) by a less valuable ingredient. Of course the sugar producers, fearing competition, heavily lobbied influential people and were willing to contribute to testing programs to prove saccharin was harmful. Unfortunately the only result to come out of the tests was that Saccharin contained no nutritional value at all. The vast sums of money invested in the sugar industry meant that there were several more "trials" to test the safety of saccharin.

In a clash that had career consequences, Wiley told then President Theodore Roosevelt that "Everyone who ate that sweet corn was deceived. He thought he was eating sugar, when in point of fact he was eating a coal tar product totally devoid of food value and extremely injurious to health.". Unfortunately for Wiley, Roosevelt himself was a consumer of saccharin, and in a heated exchange, Roosevelt angrily answered Wiley by stating, "Anybody who says saccharin is injurious to health is an idiot." The episode proved the undoing of Wiley's career.

In 1911, the Food Inspection Decision 135 stated that foods containing saccharin were adulterated. However in 1912, Food Inspection Decision 142 stated that saccharin was not harmful.

More controversy was stirred in 1969 with the discovery of files from the FDA's investigations of 1948 and 1949. These investigations, which had originally argued against saccharin use, were shown to prove little about saccharin being harmful to human health. In 1972 the USDA made an attempt to completely ban the substance.However, this attempt was also unsuccessful and the sweetener is widely used in the United States; it is the third-most popular after sucralose and aspartame.

In the European Union saccharin is also known by the E number (additive code) E954

The current status of saccharin is that it is allowed in most countries, and countries like Canada are considering lifting their previous ban on it as a food additive. The concerns that it is associated with bladder cancer were proved to be without foundation in experiments on primates.

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Indonesia's Lethal Food
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Bar - Gold bar with Granny Smith Apple


Studies in laboratory rats during the early 1970s linked saccharin with the development of bladder cancer, resulting in the United States Congress mandating that all food containing saccharin bear a warning label.

Cancer Research

Saccharin is probably the most researched artificial sweetener.

In 2000, the warning labels disappeared because scientists learned that rats have a unique combination of high pH, high calcium phosphate, and high protein levels in their urine. One or more of the proteins that is more prevalent in male rats combines with calcium phosphate and saccharin to produce microcrystals that damage the lining of the bladder. Over time, the rat's bladder responds to this damage by over-producing cells to repair the damage, and this leads to tumour formation. This does not occur in humans, so there is no bladder cancer risk.

The delisting of saccharin led to legislation, which was signed into law on December 21, 2000, repealing the warning label requirement for products containing saccharin.

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