How Is Saccharin Produced?

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History

While it is a popular sweetener nationwide, saccharin was actually discovered by accident. Chemist Constantin Fahlberg was experimenting with coal tar derivatives at a laboratory at Johns Hopkins University operated by Ira Remsen, a fellow chemist. After discovering saccharin's sweet nature, both Fahlber and Remsen published papers on making the compound in 1880. While Fahlberg experienced success over his discovery, Remsen did not, even though he applied for several patents concerning the saccharin-making process.

Although saccharin was produced shortly after its discovery, it was mostly considered useful for diabetics, as saccharin does not cause blood sugar levels to spike in the same manner that sugar does. Saccharin increasingly grew in popularity during World War I as a replacement to compensate for sugar shortages due to rationing. In the 1960s and '70s, dieters began to increasingly use saccharin due to its calorie-free nature. Saccharin is popular as an additive for soda, candy or medicines. It may also be used in a sugar-type form in packets, such as Sweet'N Low or Sugar Twin.

Saccharin's Chemical Structure

The chemical structure of saccharin is C7H5NO3S, and it is an organic compound, meaning its molecules contain carbon. There are two main approaches to making saccharin: the Remsen-Fahlberg process (named after the two scientists who discovered the compound) and the Maumee, or Sherwin-Williams process, named for the company that further refined the Maumee process.

Remsen-Fahlberg Process

While both methods of production require multiple steps, the Remsen-Fahlberg process requires reacting toluene, which has a natural sweet smell, with chlorosulfonic acid, which is a colorless liquid. This acid compound is then synthesized with a series of compounds, including potassium permanganate and ammonia. This compound is then heated, and the introduced heat creates saccharin. Saccharin's hydrogen bonds are the chief contributors to the sweet taste when consumed. Because this process takes a lot of compounds to produce a relatively low yield, improvements were sought--which is why the Maumee process was created.

Maumee Process

Named for the Maumee Chemical Company where the process was created, this begins with phthalic anhydride, an industrial compound used in creating plastics, which is converted into anthranilic acid. This acid is synthesized with several compounds, including nitrous acid, sulfur dioxide, chlorine (which is why saccharin salt can be produced), and ammonia, which produces saccharin. The differences from the Remsen-Fahlberg process include the compounds used and the lack of heat used in synthesis.

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