Choosing Sweetness by Color Packet

Feb. 1, 2010
Do you know the difference between sucrose, saccharin, aspartame or sucralose?

First there was sugar, a carbohydrate that occurs naturally in every fruit and vegetable. Aside from providing energy, sugar makes foods taste good. For primitive men and women, the sweet taste meant the food was safe to eat, whereas bitter indicated the food might be poisonous.

Sweeteners for the industry
In 2001, the FDA approved erythritol, a natural, zero calorie sweetener. Sold as a white crystalline powder from Cargill Inc. under the brand name Zerose, erythritol is a sugar alcohol naturally found in fruit and fermented foods and has a clean sweet taste similar to sucrose. It is 60 to 80 percent as sweet as sugar and other sweetener alternatives, is safe for diabetics, and does not promote tooth decay.

Neotame, the NutraSweet Co.’s zero calorie high-intensity powder sweetener, marketed directly to the industry, rather than to consumers, was approved by the FDA in July 2002, JECFA in 2003, and the EU in January 2010. It is 8,000 times sweeter than sucrose, has flavour enhancing properties and a clean/simple label. In addition to using less Neotame and more water in beverage formulations, it uses less energy to ship and reduces handling and storage costs. 

There are different types of sugar including glucose, fructose and lactose. Table sugar (sucrose), extracted from beet and cane, is made up of glucose and fructose, and it is on tables in a white package. One teaspoon contains 16 calories.

In 1957, saccharin debuted, basically the only alternative to sugar and up to 300 times sweeter. With zero calories, it is produced from purified, manufactured methyl anthranilate, a substance occurring naturally in grapes, and includes other ingredients to mask its bitterness. Today it is commonly sold in a pink packet as Sweet’N Low, from Cumberland Packing Corp., Brooklyn. It is found in soft drinks, baked goods, jams, candy, dessert toppings and salad dressings. Saccharin will see its market share continue to drop, although it is popular in oral care products and tabletop sweeteners, according to Freedonia.

In 1965, G.D. Searle and Co. researcher James Schlatter, accidentally discovered aspartame, a combination of aspartic acid and phenylalanine and 200 times sweeter than sugar. FDA approved it in food in 1981 and beverages in 1983. NutraSweet, The NutraSweet Co., Chicago, debuted in 1981, and revolutionized the sweetener industry. Although there have been concerns about its safety, aspartame has been declared safe by regulatory agencies and has been approved in more than 100 countries on six continents. It appears on tables in blue packets and in many foods and beverages. Other aspartame brands include Equal and Candarel by Merisant, Chicago. 

Discovered in 1976 through a collaborative research project between scientists at Tate & Lyle PLC and researchers at Queen Elizabeth College in London, sucralose, under the brand name Splenda, was rolled out in the U.S. in 2000 in yellow packets. Made by McNeil Nutritionals, Ft. Washington, Pa., a unit of Johnson & Johnson, Splenda is 600 times sweeter than sugar, has zero calories, and is manufactured in a patented multi-step process that starts with sucralose, a form of sugar. It is made from rearranged sugar molecules that substitute three atoms of chlorine for three hydroxyl groups on the sugar molecule. It can be used for baking and cooking at high temperatures, and in beverages and syrups. There has been controversy over its “Made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar” advertising campaign, but Splenda is permitted for use in over 80 countries and has never required any safety information or warning statements on labels.

Sucralose has grown from niche status to market powerhouse since its FDA approval for use as a general sweetener. It is expected to continue to expand its dominant position in the tabletop sweetener market, and will grow rapidly in other food applications, according to Freedonia.

Approved by the FDA in 1988 for use in food, and 1998 in soft drinks, Acesulfame Postassium (Ace-K), the component of Sunett and Sweet One, is 180-200 times sweeter than sucrose and produced by Nutrinova Inc., a business of Dallas-based Celanese AG. It is available in a blue package with yellow lettering