Can you imagine a world without the sweet flavour? Maybe. Some people are on eternal bland diet either by choice or by medical necessity. But, for the rest of the world, sweet is just indispensable. Think chocolates, cakes, ice cream, cream pies, juices, colas, candies – the list rolls out eternally. Man knows sweetness like himself because his very tongue has a special spot – at the very tip – just for that taste. But do we know why and where sweetness came from? Sugar? Yes. Aspartame? Yes. This article is made to review the natural and artificial flavourings our modern world has been using to satiate that man’s love for sweetness.
The basic truth
Sweeteners are used to improve the taste of food. They have been associated with eating pleasure and with foods that can give energy such as those high in carbohydrates. They can either be natural or artificial. But what’s the difference? Natural sweeteners are compounds with nutritive value; mono or disaccharides as its major component. They are extracted from natural products without chemical modification. On the other hand, artificial sweeteners are compounds that have very little or no nutritive value. They are derived from chemical synthesis of organic compounds that may or many not be derived from nature.
The many means to sweeten
1.) Honey (natural)
–Formed by honey bees using the nectar of flowers, honey gets its sweetness from fructose and glucose. Aside from these two monosaccharides, honey is also composed of sucrose, maltose, carbohydrates, water, vitamins, minerals and enzymes. Its pH is acidic and thus prevents the growth of most bacteria.
2.) Maple Syrup (natural)
–Made from the sap of some maple trees, maple syrup is made largely of sucrose. It is harvested by tapping on the tree bark and letting the sap flow. The sap then is processed i.e. water is evaporated. It takes 40 L of sap to make 1 L of maple syrup.
3.) Sugar (natural)
– Think sweet and sugar comes to mind. Simple table sugar, sucrose, is formed from glucose and fructose. It is made by extracting the juice of sugarcane and processing it.
4.) Molasses (natural)
–The by product of the production of sugar from sugarcane or sugar beet. It contains glucose, fructose, sucrose, nitrogen, sulphur and reducing substances. It also contains many vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, calcium, potassium, iron, selenium etc.
5.) Stevia (natural)
-Approved by the FDA as a general sweetener only in 2008, Stevia is one of the newest sweeteners in the market, It comes from the plant Stevia rebaudiana native in Paraguay and Brazil but can be grown elsewhere.It contains glycosides that are 200 to 300 times sweeter than sucrose but has no effect in the blood sugar. It is now used in many products in the market including Sprite green and Gatorade’s G2. Stevia is approved as a food additive in 12 countries, including Japan, Brazil and China. There are however more long-term studies to be done on the long-term effects of Stevia to the body.
6.) Acesulfame potassium (artificial)
–A calorie-free sweetener that is 200 times sweeter than sugar. It is made by transforming an organic intermediate, acetoacetic acid, and combining it with potassium. Acesulfame is rapidly absorbed by the body and excreted in the same form. It was discovered by Karl Causs in 1967.
7.) Aspartame (artificial)
–Like Acesulfame, Aspartame is approximately 200 times sweeter than sugar and is used in many products in the market, approved by FDA as safe to use in all foods and beverages in 2006. It is a low-calorie sweetener made by combining two protein components, aspartic acid, phenylalanine and a small amount of methanol As any protein, aspartame is digested and broken down by the body into its basic components where it is then absorbed by the blood. It was discovered in 1965 by chemist James Schlatter.
8.) Neotame (artificial)
–Similar to aspartame but much more stable and potent. It is 7000 to 13000 times sweeter than sugar.
9.) Saccharine (artificial)
–The oldest artificial sweetener 200-700 times sweeter than sugar. It was discovered in 1879. Ssacharine is a special type of sweetener whose use is regulated by the FDA. It is not metabolized in the body and is thus considered a non-caloric sweetener and a good sugar substitute.
10.) Sucralose (artificial)
– Also a non-caloric sweetener, sucralose-making begins with sucrose. It is an extensively studied sweetener all over the world and is found to be safe. However, a recent study by the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that despite sucralose’s zero calorie content, it can affect the body’s response to sugar thereby affecting diabetes risk.
11.) High fructose corn syrup (artificial)
-Produced from corn starch, HFCS contains both fructose and glucose. It is used in many food and beverage products. A study in 2005 showed that some HFCS produced in the US showed trace amounts of Mercury coming from caustic soda and hydrochloric acid.
Whatever sweeteners we use, what is important is, we know its effects on our body. Awareness of what we eat is vital to health.
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