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Aspartame as Chemical Warfare

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This reminds me of a story about the history of artificial sweeteners, as reported on page 569, 570 of ON FOOD AND COOKING by Harold McGee:

The history of artificial sweeteners began in 1879 in the Johns Hopkins University lab of Ira Remsen, later the second president of that university. Constantin Fahlberg, a German student working under Remsen on a particular class of organic chemicals, ate a piece of bread one day and found it overpoweringly sweet. He traced the taste to his hands, and then to a compound, C6H4CONHSO2 which he had just handled. He dubbed it saccharin and went on to patent it (without Remsen). (Cyclameates, no longer in use since their implication with cancer in the late sixties, were discovered in much the same way. In 1937 a chemist at the University of Illinois, Michael Sveda, lit a cigarette and noticed that the paper had absorbed some of the sweet substance.) The industrial production of saccharin began in 1900. It became an important sugar substitute during the shortages of World War I, and attained general popularity in the 50s. Because saccharin is 200 to 700 times as sweeet as table sugar, it ends up being much cheaper per unit of sweetness, and because it is not absorbed and used for energy, as is sugar, saccharin is a calorie free flavoring.

Aspartame, the newcomer among artificila sweeteners, was discovered by chance in 1965 when another research chemist, James M. Schlatter noticed that his fingers were sweet (these stories make one wonder about the standards of laboratory hygiene). It is a combination of one amino acid, aspartic acid, with a derivative of anothere, phenylalanine. Like all proteins and sugars, it delivers 4 calories per gram, but because it is some 160 times sweeter than sugar, a teaspoons worth of sweetness costs only a tenth of a calorie. It has the disadvantages of breaking down and losing its sweetness at cooking temperatures iand in acid foods, and of being unsafe for people where are born with the metabolic defect called phenylketonuria and who must limit their intake of phenylalanine.


Anyway, great article, those Republicans really give a shit about our health.

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