Saccharin was discovered in 1879 by Constantine Fahlberg, while working in the laboratory of Ira Remsen, quite by accident as were most other sweeteners. While working in the lab, he spilled a chemical on his hand. Later while eating dinner, Fahlberg noticed a more sweetness in the bread he was eating. He traced the sweetness back to the chemical, later named saccharin, by tasting various residues on his hands and clothes (unsanitary conditions) and finally chemicals in the lab (not a safe lab practice). Saccharin is sold under the Sweet'N Low, Sugar Twin names.
By 1907, saccharin was used as a replacement for sugar in foods for diabetics. Since it is not metabolized in the body for energy, saccharin is classified as a noncaloric sweetener. By the 1960s it was used on a massive scale in the "diet" soft drink industry. Saccharin is the foundation for many low-calorie and sugar-free products around the world. It is used in table top sweeteners, baked goods, jams, chewing gum, canned fruit, candy, dessert toppings and salad dressings.
Saccharin also is one of the most studied food ingredients. Although the overall evidence indicates saccharin is safe for human consumption, there has been controversy over its safety in the past. The basis for the controversy rests primarily on findings of bladder tumors in some male rats fed high doses of sodium saccharin. Extensive research on human populations has established no association between saccharin and cancer. In fact, more than 30 human studies have been completed and support saccharin's safety at human levels of consumption.
The reason why it tastes sweet is still unclear, but its shape must be correct to fit into specific receptors in the taste buds. Evidence for this comes from the fact that if the shape is modified slightly, say by changing the H on the nitrogen to a methyl, the new molecule no longer tastes sweet. It is also possible that the specific taste receptors it targets are peculiar to humans, since bees or butterflies, which normally crave the sweetness of nectar, do not treat it as a desirable substance.
Note: The model receptor site is this author's conception and is based only very loosely on theory and geometry of the molecules. It is only useful for students' initial conceptions of the fit of a molecule into a receptor site.
- Area (AH+): This area has hydrogens available to hydrogen bond to oxygen that is part of the sulfur group.
- Area (B -): This area has a partially negative oxygen available to hydrogen bond to the partially positive hydrogen of the amine group.
- Area (X): This area is more or less perpendicular to the other two areas interacts through hydrophobic or non-polar properties to the non-polar the benzene on the saccharin molecule.