The discovery of artificial sweeteners has something curious about it – some of them were discovered by accident. The first artificial sweetener ever discovered was randomly generated by random laboratory safety practices.
The German scientist Constantin Fahlberg discovered in 1
"How did I discover saccharin?" He said. "Well, it was partly accidental and partly through study. I had worked for a long time on the composite radicals and substitution products of coal tar and made a number of scientific discoveries that I know have no commercial value. One evening, I was so interested in my lab that I had forgotten about dinner late, and then hurried to dinner without washing my hands. I sat down, broke a piece of bread and pressed it to my lips. It tasted unspeakably sweet. I did not ask why it was, probably because I thought it was cake or sweets. I rinsed my mouth with water and dried my mustache with my napkin as the napkin tasted sweeter, to my surprise, than the bread. Then I was confused. I raised my goblet again and, as luck would have it, put my mouth where my fingers had previously touched it. The water seemed to be syrup. I realized that I was the cause of the unique universal sweetness, and I accordingly tasted the end of my thumb and found that it surpassed all the confectionery I had ever eaten. I saw the whole thing at a glance. I had discovered or produced a coal tar substance that extracted sugar. I dropped my supper and ran back to the lab. In my excitement, I tasted the contents of each beaker and the evaporating dish on the table. Fortunately, it contained no corrosive or toxic liquid. "
Fahlberg barely surpassed the sweetness of his accidental discovery. Saccharin is about 300-400 times sweeter than sucrose (sugar). What had to do with a powdered sugar on his fingertips was the equivalent of dozens of spoons of sugar distilling to a very sweet surprise.
Fahlberg would hardly be the last in a series of researchers who inadvertently came across artificial sweeteners in pursuit of other research. In 1965 James M. Schlatter discovered aspartame when he formulated it as an intermediate step in the production of a tetrapeptide of the hormone gastrin for use in the evaluation of an anti-ulcer drug. He licked his finger to pick up a piece of paper and found it to be extremely sweet.
In 1976, researchers Leslie Hough and Shashikant Phadnis worked with sucrose at Queen Elizabeth College. While researching chlorinated sugar compounds, Hough Phadnis asked to test a particular compound. Phadnis misunderstood the request and tried it more confidently – instead, he accidentally discovered another artificial sugar.
Thanks to the lax hand washing routines of several scientists over the last century and a half, you can enjoy sweet treats and a shot of "sugar" in your coffee without guilt.
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.