Why are not sweeteners as tasty as a real sugar?

Today is December 22nd, the day when Constantin Fahlberg was born. He was the inventor of saccharine, one of the most popular sweetener. It is 300 times sweeter than sugar but it has no food energy (calories) and hence does not lead to obesity. Why do we need sweeteners? What is chemistry behind them?

It is clear for everybody what are advantages of sweeter with zero calories. But why don’t we use sweeteners everywhere instead of sugar? The healthy choice with the same taste should have won the fight against sugar. If it has not, something is wrong with sweeteners. Many people do not like sweeteners because they have a bad taste. What does that mean? Let us get inside the chemistry of sweetness.

On your tongue, you have taste buds, which are chemical sensors for specific molecules. Taste is a signal from such a sensor. Every sensor gives its own taste – one gives a bitter taste, another one – sour, third type – sweet, also there is a sensor for salty substances.

The sweet receptors try to catch sucrose molecules.


Your brain can be cheated by sweeteners but is it for the good? The brain has to count its feeling of consumption of calories. When you taste sweet candy, your brain waits for calories to come and serve the brain and body with its energy. With artificial sweeteners, calories never come – and you may reprogram your brain. By consuming many sweeteners, you stop associating sweet taste with calories, which may lead in the future to overfeeding. The overfeeding effect due to sweeteners has been observed in rats. This may be the danger of sweeteners.

Some claims about cancer and diabetes were made against sweeteners but they were not proven experimentally. So physiologically, sweeteners are safe but may be harmful psychologically due to reprogramming your sweet-energy perception.

An interesting fact is that cats have no sweet receptors. They eat meat and do not need sugar.

What do we also know about human taste?

  • Salty taste is similar for different types of salts.
  • Sour taste is needed to detect spoiled food.
  • Bitter tastes are different (total about 20), and they are needed to detect toxic substances. It is the evolution which detected every new poison with a new kind of bitter taste.
  • Hot taste is not a taste at all. It is a tricking of your receptors responsible for hot temperature.
  • Taste of menthol is not a taste. It is also a trick of your receptors that are responsible for cold.
  • There is the fifth called umami or a savory taste. A Japanese scientist Kikunae Ikeda proposed about hundred years ago that glutamate is a separate fifth taste.

So what is the answer to the question of sweeteners? The sweeteners that have a bad taste act on several different receptors (including bitter taste) while sugar acts only on the sweet receptors. That is the reason for sweeteners to be not as tasty as a real sugar.

What interesting facts do you know about taste? Comment on our pages on Twitter, Facebook, or VK and we will include your answers in our next post about taste.

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