Monday, October 28, 2013

Aspartame and the Importance of Chirality

When your grandparents were in their twenties, the idea of ordering coffee and choosing between sugar, NutraSweet, Splenda, Stevia, or Equal for their sweetener would have been unheard of. But thanks to science, we now have more options than ever before!

In 1965, a chemist named James Schlatter was working on an anti-ulcer drug when he licked his finger to turn the page on a book and tasted a very sweet substance. That substance would later be patented and used to sweeten food and drink products under the name of NutraSweet. 

Aspartame is a dipeptide methyl ester with a chemical formula of C14H18N2O5. It is 180 times sweeter than sucrose, which is why it is such a useful artificial sweetener. An interesting fact about aspartame is that we only use the R-enantiomer of the chemical. The S-enantiomer does not have the correct shape to fit onto the binding site for sweetness receptors on our tongue. Shown below is the chemical structure that you will find in NutraSweet.

The debate over the health risks of using aspartame is all over the internet, so if you are interested in that side of the chemical, feel free to google away!


1 comment:

  1. That is funny how Schlatter discovered that his anti-ulcer drug could in fact be a sugar substitute. I am amazed at all of the potential side effects for aspartame. The list seems to cover just about every major system in the body. Although I am sure the risk is small and you would have to ingest a large amount of aspartame, I think I will stick to plain old sugar if I want something sweet. Nice post