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Sweet tasting beard & invention of Saccharin

Sweet tasting beard & invention of Saccharin
Sweet tasting beard & invention of Saccharin

Isn’t it interesting that some of the discoveries happened because of pure luck or as they called ‘accidents’? Yes, in this series of of interesting facts, we explore some of the common things most of us don’t know. 

Though it is widely used as a substitute for sugar, especially as a diabetic-friendly sweetening agent, did you know the discovery of Saccharin was a pleasant accident? Saccharin derives its name from the word “saccharine”, meaning “sugary”. The word saccharine is used figuratively, to describe something “unpleasantly over-polite” or “overly sweet”. Both words are derived from the Greek word σάκχαρον (sakkharon) meaning “gravel”. As Saccharin has no food energy and no nutritional value, it is safe to consume for individuals with diabetes. Though some sensitive people have exhibited allergies on consumption of Saccharin, it is considered safe for consumption.

Saccharin was produced first in 1879, by Constantin Fahlberg, a Russian chemist working on coal tar derivatives in Ira Remsen’s laboratory at Johns Hopkins University. One day Fahlberg noticed a sweet taste on his hand and then realised that his beard was tasted sweet! He then saw that his coat and other things he has worn to work tasted sweet too. He then connected this with the compound benzoic sulfimide on which he had been working that day. Both Fahlberg and Remsen published articles on benzoic sulfimide in 1879 and 1880. In 1884, then working on his own in New York City, Fahlberg applied for patents in several countries, describing methods of producing this substance that he named saccharin. Within two years, he had begun production of the substance in a factory in a suburb of Magdeburg in Germany. Fahlberg would soon grow wealthy, while Remsen merely grew irritated, believing he deserved credit for substances produced in his laboratory but felt left alone. Thus the sweetening agent left their relationship bitter.

Do you use Saccharin with your food? What do you think of this story about the discovery of Saccharin?

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