KANSAS CITY – The history of sugar reduction dates to at least the 19th century. Questions about the safety of alternative sweeteners, especially synthetic ones, go back decades as well.

Even during a time of clean label, sales of artificial sweeteners continue to increase. ResearchandMarkets.com, Dublin, Ireland, forecasts the global artificial sweetener market to have a compound annual growth rate of 3.5%, reaching $9.35 billion by 2028. Weight loss, dental care, diabetes, reactive hypoglycemia and low costs are primary reasons to use artificial sweeteners.

Fortunate accidents led to the creation of two well-known sweeteners: saccharin and sucralose.

Questioning saccharin’s safety

Saccharin is the world’s oldest artificial sweetener, according to the Calorie Control Council, an association representing the low-calorie and reduced-calorie food and beverage industry. Constantin Fahlberg discovered saccharin, a non-caloric sweetener, in 1879 at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, according to the American Chemical Society. While working with benzoic sulfimide, a coal-tar derivative, he noticed a sweet taste on his hand.

Saccharin’s use increased in World War I because of a sugar shortage, but an article in the Feb. 20, 1970, issue of Science drew attention to the sweetener’s safety. Cell tumors were found in the urinary bladders of 8 rats out of 80 that received 2,600 mg per kilogram (2.2 lbs) of body weight per day of a mixture of sodium cyclamate and sodium saccharin for up to 105 weeks.

The United States in 1977 began requiring a warning label on foods sweetened with saccharin, according to the Calorie Control Council, but federal legislation on Dec. 21, 2000, removed the saccharin warning label. The rats in the study had been given an overwhelming amount of saccharin. The average user of saccharin ingests less than an ounce of the sweetener each year, and over 30 human studies support saccharin’s safety at human levels of consumption, according to the Calorie Control Council, which added today it is used in tabletop sweeteners, baked foods, jam, chewing gum, canned fruit, candy, dessert toppings and salad dressings. Sweet ‘N Low, a zero-calorie sweetener containing saccharin, entered the market in 1957 and remains on tabletops today.

Did you say taste or test?

The same decade questions arose about saccharin’s safety, sucralose was discovered.

Riaz Khan, PhD, then a senior carbohydrate chemist at London-based Tate & Lyle, PLC, called Shashikant Phadnis, who was working with Professor Leslie Hough at Queen Elizabeth College in the United Kingdom. Dr. Khan in a phone call asked Mr. Phadnis to test a product. Mr. Phadnis thought he said taste, which he did, finding the product, sucralose, to be intensely sweet.

The high-intensity sweetener industry soon entered a growth phase.

The US Food and Drug Administration approved the use of Splenda sucralose as an ingredient in a range of food and beverage categories on April 1, 1998.

“We have been steadily building our business since 1990 when the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) gave sucralose its safety endorsement,” said Austin Maguire, divisional managing director for Tate & Lyle Speciality Sweeteners, at the time. “At this point we began the process of seeking approvals from national regulatory authorities. We have always considered the United States an important milestone, and having reached it, we are now in a position to intensify our global market development efforts.”

By 2006, over 60 countries had approved the use of sucralose as a sweetener, which is about 600 times sweeter than sugar.

Tate & Lyle celebrated the 40th anniversary of the discovery of sucralose in 2016. The company in the fiscal year ended March 31, 2022, had revenue of £163 million for sucralose, which was up 13% from the previous fiscal year. Heartland Consumer Products LLC owns the Splenda trademark and is responsible for the manufacture, sales and marketing of Splenda brand tabletop products available in retail and foodservice outlets globally.