Derek Lowe
November 3 2022

Non-sugar sweeteners have a long and rather tangled history, both chemically and nutritionally. There are several chemical classes: sulfimides/sulfamates (saccharin, acesulfam-K, and cyclamate), small peptides (aspartame and neotame), (mostly) nonmetabolized carbohydrates (sucralose) or ones that are metabolized in a way that does not set off an insulin response (sugar alcohols such as xylitol and sorbitol), and some odd natural-product glycosides, such as steviol glycosides from stevia and mogosides from monk fruit. The sugar alcohols and glycosides are found in nature, but all the man-made types (the first three classes) were discovered accidentally when someone in a lab happened to ingest small amounts and noticed the taste. That last pathway is not as common as it used to be decades ago - who knows what artificial sweeteners we might have missed out on due to lack of sloppy lab technique? Legal disclaimer: I am not encouraging this method of discovery, although I’m assuming that if Barry Sharpless had run across something interesting he would have told the rest of us about it.

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