There is something quite curious about the discoveries of artificial sweeteners – a significant number of them were discovered by mistake. The first artificial sweetener that was ever discovered was entirely accidental thanks to salmon lab safety practices.
A German scientist Constantin Fahlberg discovered sucrose ̵1; the first artificial sweetener – 1879. He did research completely unrelated to sweeteners, but instead did research on cholesterol derivatives. Specifically, Fahlberg sought a way of converting by-products from the coal industry into something useful (and profitable). Fahlberg, in an interview with Scientific American in 1886, explained how he tripped over the sweetener:
"How did I detect saccharin?" He said. "Well, it was partly by chance and partly by study. I had worked for a long time with the composite radicals and substitutes of coal tar and had made a number of scientific discoveries that, as far as I know, lack commercial value. One night I was so interested from my lab that I forgot about supper until it was quite late and then rushed off for a meal without stopping my hands. I sat down, broke a piece of bread and put it on my lips. It tasted unpleasantly sweet. I did not ask why that was so, probably because I thought it was a cake or sweet food. I rinse my mouth with water and dried my mustache with my napkin when my napkin tasted sweeter than the bread. Then I got puzzled. my cup, and, as fortune would have, applied my mouth, where my fingers had touched it before. The water seemed syrup. It blinked me that I was the reason to singular universal sweetness, and so I tasted at the end of my thumb and found that it surpassed some chocolate that I had ever eaten. I saw it all with a glance. I had discovered or made some coal tar substance as suckared sugar. I let go of my dinner and ran back to the laboratory. There, in my excitement, I tasted the contents of each cup and a vigorous dish on the table. Fortunately, for me no one contained any corrosive or toxic liquid. "
Fahlberg was scarcely exaggerated by the sweetness of his unintentional discovery. Sacharin is about 300-400 times sweeter than sucrose (sugar). What constituted a dust of powdered sugar at the fingertips equals dozens of spoons of sugar distilled down in an intense sweet surprise.
Fahlberg would hardly be the last in a number of researchers who accidentally stumbled on artificial sweeteners while following other research. In 1965, James M. Schlatter discovered aspartame when he synthesized it as an intermediate step in generating a tetrapeptide of hormone gastrin for use in assessing a drug candidate against wounds. He licked his finger to pick up a paper and found that it tasted exceptionally sweet.
In 1976, Shashikant Phadnis, researcher at Queen Elizabeth College, contributed research on chlorinated sugar compounds. misheard a phone call from a big sugar company asking made samples of chlorinated sugars to "test" and thought they said "tasting" instead, so he tried the associations first. The accidental sliding led to the discovery of another artificial sweetener: sucralose.
Thanks to the salmon hand washing routines and unintentional release of several researchers in the past century and half, you can enjoy sweet candies and a line of "Sugar" in your debt-freeness.
Image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons.