Medicine: Sweeten to Taste

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Michael Sveda was working for his doctorate in chemistry at the University of Illinois and his laboratory bench was cluttered with sulfamic acid and its salts. One day Sveda lit a cigarette without bothering to wash his bench-stained hands, was surprised to find that the cigarette tasted sweet. To track down the cause, Sveda tasted every compound on his bench. The sweetener proved to be sodium cyclohexylsulfamate. It was a lucky accident for people who want sweetness without sugar.

Last week, after 13 years of testing on animals and men, Chicago's Abbott Laboratories announced that it was putting Dr. Sveda's synthetic sweetener on the market under the trade name Sucaryl Sodium. It is, say the producers, 30 to 50 times as sweet as cane sugar and has no food (caloric) value.

Diabetics who have been told to cut sugar out of their diet and plumpish U.S. citizens who watch their waistlines have sometimes objected to saccharin; in some mouths, saccharin leaves a bitter aftertaste. Furthermore, it cannot be used in many kinds of cooking because it breaks down under heat. Sucaryl, says Abbott, has the edge over saccharin in both these respects: it does not taste bitter and it can be cooked just like sugar. Canned goods and preserves sweetened with it will be sold through health food stores. Abbott offers one warning: since it is a sodium salt, people with kidney troubles should use it only on a doctor's advice.