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Molecules of life - Saccharin

Jul 10, 2024

Sweetness is a basic sense of taste, and in many cultures around the world, sweetness almost always symbolizes a good feeling, and a preference for sweet foods seems to be one of the commonalities among human beings. Sugar products in daily life are mainly table sugar, which is mainly composed of sucrose and is subdivided into icing sugar, white granulated sugar, brown sugar and so on according to its purity. Natural sugars mainly come from plants, but only sugarcane and sugar beets have a high concentration, and according to the global production ratio, cane sugar accounts for about 70%, and beet sugar accounts for about 30%. With the demand for sugar increasing year by year, especially the rapid development of the food processing industry, natural sugar has long been unable to meet the demand.

Saccharin(CAS 204-886-1: from the accidental discovery

Food additives have been invented to preserve the flavor, enhance the taste or improve the appearance of food. Saccharin, as a sweeteners, is 300 to 500 times sweeter than sucrose, and has been used in large quantities in China as a substitute for sucrose for more than half a century. Under the specific conditions of insufficient self-produced sugar in China, the use of saccharin and other high sweeteners to replace part of the sucrose has played an important role in alleviating the shortage of sugar. Unlike other food additives, saccharin actually originated from an "accidental" discovery in a laboratory.

In 1879, the Russian chemist Constantin Fahlberg (Constantin Fahlberg) is engaged in coal tar research at Johns Hopkins University, home from work with dinner he found that the food has a special sweet taste, repeatedly confirmed that it is not the food itself and the cooking process of the introduction of sugar, he will focus his attention on the laboratory, and accidentally found that The special sweetness came from a compound synthesized in the lab. The experiment Constantine was carrying out was a reaction that his colleague Ira Remsen had failed to perform four years earlier. In 1875, Ira had tried to obtain o-carboxybenzenesulfonic acid directly from the one-step oxidation of o-toluenesulfonic acid, a seemingly "simple" reaction that had failed to materialize. Later, they changed their strategy and proposed to start from o-carboxybenzenesulfonamide, which was hydrolyzed by KMnO4 oxidation to obtain the target compound. Although Constantine obtained the expected product, it was only in the form of a by-product, and the reaction mainly produced another cyclic compound, o-carboxybenzenesulfonamide, from which the peculiar sweetness was derived!

Production of saccharin

Constantine's accidental discovery of saccharin gave him a glimpse of its great commercial value, and he applied for a patent in Germany to start the industrial production of saccharin. Interestingly enough, the raw material for the production of saccharin was toluene, one of the basic raw materials for petrochemicals. Specific process is not very complicated: toluene sulfonation by PCl5 and ammonia to get benzenesulfonamide product, methyl and then oxidized by KMnO4 for carboxyl, due to the simultaneous existence of neighboring substitution and para-substitution products, only neighboring substitution products can be successfully cyclized to get saccharin; in order to obtain pure saccharin, need to use "acid - alkali post-treatment method In order to obtain pure saccharin, it is necessary to purify the product by "acid-base post-treatment method".

Saccharin and human health

As we all know, sugar is one of the important nutrients for human body, which is mainly divided into three categories: monosaccharides, disaccharides and polysaccharides. Monosaccharides are the smallest molecules among sugars because they cannot be further hydrolyzed, and the most typical monosaccharide is glucose, the universal source of energy for living organisms; in addition, glycogen can be used as an energy storage substance for the human body. Compared to table sugar, however, saccharin is a calorie-free sweetener with no nutritional value for the human body; it is simply a synthetic high-frequency sweetener used to induce a sweet taste sensation.

As an important nutrient in the human body, sugar is digested and absorbed by the human body and quickly converted into blood sugar, supplying the energy needed by the body, and its decomposition products are H2O and CO2, which can be completely eliminated from the body. However, research has found that saccharin in the human body does not occur metabolism, is ingested by the human body through the urine and feces out of the body, but eating too much may cause poisoning.

In addition, there are dozens of raw materials used in the production of saccharin, most of which are potentially harmful to the human body, especially o-toluenesulfonamide, an impurity in saccharin, which is carcinogenic. In the 1960s, a study indicated that saccharin itself may be a carcinogen. When experimental rats were fed large doses of saccharin, their chances of developing bladder cancer increased significantly. Although it has since been pointed out that this study was not rigorous and there is evidence that there is no correlation between saccharin and cancer, (particularly bladder cancer), but we still need to be vigilant about the potential effects of saccharin on human health.

Conclusion

Prior to the 1950s, food additives were negatively listed, and anything not on the explicitly banned list could be added to food. As awareness of food additives has grown, most countries now require that only licensed additives can be used in food! Although there is not yet enough evidence to support the hazards of saccharin on human health, I believe that with the development of science and technology, we will be more understanding of the nature of saccharin in the future, until then it is still hoped that all of us can do a balanced diet, control the amount of saccharin and even sugar intake, all can have a healthy body!

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