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The taste sensation ‘sweet’ is not unique to sugar. In fact, sweetness is caused by molecules which stimulate the sweetness taste buds the degree of sweetness we taste depends on how well the receptors in our tongue interact with the molecules. The stronger the interaction, the sweeter we perceive the taste.
Sugar substitutes are therefore substances which provide this stimulation to the taste buds but usually at a lower calorific value than normal. Some sugar substitutes are naturally derived and some are synthetic. Those that are not naturally derived are collectively known as artificial sweeteners. The first artificial sweetener, saccharin, was discovered in 1878 by Constantin Fahlberg, a Russian scientist working in the United States.
There are number of sugar substitutes used in soft drink manufacturing, with the most common being saccharin, cyclamate and aspartame. These compounds are many times sweeter than sugar, and are known as high-intensity sweeteners. They are most commonly found in diet or ‘lite’ drinks; this is because as less of the sweetener is required, the number of calories in the drink is correspondingly lower.
The sweetness ‘profile’ created by sugar substitutes is not identical to natural sugar, so they can be blended to achieve as close as possible to normal sugar-sweetness.