Friday 3 March 2023

Sweets for my sweet

I was going on [and on] about Werther's Candies the other day, partly because they market a sugar-free version - for some definitions of sugar - of which the ingredients are.

  • Isomalt, Acesulfame-K, Butter (Milk) (7.9%), Cream (Milk) (7%), Salt, Flavouring, Emulsifier: Soya Lecithin  

I ranted on [and on] about the isomalt but short-changed y'all on the more frighty-sounding Acesulfame-K. That was not least because, until last week, I'd never 'eard of it. I thought I was down with the artificial sweeteners: cyclamates, saccharine, aspartame but food science continues to develop as ingredients are found to be harmful or taste funny or cost too much.

Saccharine was famously discovered by accident in 1879, by Constantin Fahlberg, who was working in a coal-tar laboratory at Johns Hopkins U and neglected to wash his hands after the day's work. At home he noticed his fingers tasted sweet, assumed it was from the ortho-benzoic sulfimide on which he'd been working, and the rest is history. Fahlberg managed to make a fortune from his discovery. His boss at JHU Ira Remsen [looking sulky and beard-challenged R] was left to chew his beard in frustration about being cut out from the credit of discovering the sweet sweet gold-mine.

Bizarrely - who teaches chemists basic lab safety? - Acesulfame-K was also discovered by a hand-hygiene failure; this time in a lab at Hoechst AG in 1967. While working in the lab, Karl Clauss, licked his digit to turn over a sheet of paper and discovered that (5,6-dimethyl-1,2,3-oxathiazin-4(3H)-one 2,2-dioxide) is sweet to the taste. Being chemists they tricked about with the formula and production protocol to create the potassium salt of 6-methyl-2,2-dioxo-2H-1,2λ6,3-oxathiazin-4-olate aka Acesulfame-K which is about half as sweet at saccharine and, like aspartame, about 200x sweeter w/w than sucrose. It's also more heat-stable than aspartame, which makes it the preferred in the Werther's factory in Halle because their butter candies are boiled to buggery to create that sweet sweet taste. You may be sure that there are other compounds to be discovered which neatly fit into the sweet receptors on the human tongue . . . but are not carcinogenic, riotously expensive or salmon pink in colour.

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