Aspartame

What is Aspartame?

Aspartame (E9511), is a food additive of the class “Artificial Sweeteners”, it is used as a non-nutritive (that is to say has a negligible calorific content in the amounts used) sugar substitute. It goes under numerous brand names such as Canderel (produced by Merisant in Europe) Equal (Produced by Merisant in the US) and Nutrasweet. It has an approximate sweetness of up to 200 times that of sugar2. Aspartame is used in 1000’s of consumer products across the EU (and globally), and it is commonly blended with another artificial sweetener, Acesulfame Potassium (E950) to create a taste more like that of sugar.

2 http://www.aspartame.net/info/what_is_aspartame.asp


Chemical Composition:

Aspartame consists of two amino acids, Aspartic Acid (approximately 40% by weight) and Phenylalanine (approximately 50%) combined with a methyl ester (approximately 10%)1, it’s chemical formula is C14H18N2O5 , it’s chemical name is aspartyl-phenylalanine-1-methyl ester. The amino acids in aspartame consist of “L” isomers, that is, the “L” isomer of phenylalanine and the “L” isomer of aspartic acid, when these “L” isomers are combined they create a sweet taste (isomers are molecules that have the same molecular formula but differing formula, the “L” denominates the particular formula).

When ingested, Aspartame breaks back down into these component amino acids and Methanol (commonly known as wood alcohol). Methanol then breaks down further into first Formaldehyde (an embalming agent) and then Formic Acid (commonly found in the Venom of Bees and Ants). A further residual by product, Aspartylphenylalanine Diketopiperazine (DKP), is also produced. Each of these components has its own controversies.

1http://www.food.gov.uk/multimedia/pdfs/afssaeng.pdf

  • Aspartame consists of Phenylalanine, Aspartic Acid and Methanol
  • It is up to 200 times sweeter than sugar
  • Aspartame breaks down in the body
  • The chemicals it breaks down into are said to be potentially toxic
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