Legally Sweet

Roald Hoffman in American Scientist:

Screenhunter_30_jul_01_1325As I write this, a Philadelphia jury is learning some chemistry as it ponders a lawsuit brought by the makers of Equal (Merisant) against Splenda’s manufacturers (McNeil Nutritionals). The jury members will also be probing our attitudes toward the natural and the unnatural, parsing words and getting at the essence of advertising.

It’s about money, of course: the $1.5 billion market for artificial sweeteners. Equal’s share of the market has fallen; Splenda’s has risen dramatically, to 62 percent of the U.S. market. Equal’s Merisant accuses Splenda’s McNeil Nutritionals of gaining its edge by misleading consumers into thinking Splenda was somehow natural. Splenda’s ads say “made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar.”

First the facts: Ordinary “sugar,” whether from sugar cane or beets, is sucrose, whose structure is shown on the facing page. Equal’s active ingredient, aspartame, has a clearly different molecular structure from sucrose. Why it tastes sweet (much sweeter per gram than sugar), or to state it a different way, how artificial sweeteners work their biochemical legerdemain on our taste buds … that is a fascinating story. We now know the receptors involved and understand roughly how it can be that the receptor proteins respond to the diversity of chemical structures represented in sweeteners.

More here.