It was saccharine and it was indeed discovered by accident.
Saccharin was discovered in 1879 by researchers at Johns Hopkins University. During experiments on toluene derivatives, a substance in coal tar, two scientists, Constantin Fahlberg, a German, and Ira Remsen, an American, later determined the substance to be the new compound saccharin.
According to Eric Walters, a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, in Chicago, whose research has focused on sweeteners, one of the Hopkins researchers accidentally spilled lab material on his hand and then noticed an unaccountable sweet taste while eating dinner that night. (Obviously, hand-washing before a meal was not a priority back then).
Aside from Sugar of lead, Saccharin was the first artificial sweetener and was originally synthesized in 1879 by Remsen and Fahlberg. Its sweet taste was discovered by accident. It had been created in an experiment with toluene derivatives. A process for the creation of saccharin from phthalic anhydride was developed in 1950, and, currently, saccharin is created by this process as well as the original process by which it was discovered. It is 300 to 500 times as sweet as sugar (sucrose) and is often used to improve the taste of toothpastes, dietary foods, and dietary beverages. The bitter aftertaste of saccharin is often minimized by blending it with other sweeteners.
Fear about saccharin increased when a 1960 study showed that high levels of saccharin may cause bladder cancer in laboratory rats. In 1977, Canada banned saccharin due to the animal research. In the United States, the FDA considered banning saccharin in 1977, but Congress stepped in and placed a moratorium on such a ban. The moratorium required a warning label and also mandated further study of saccharin safety.
Subsequently, it was discovered that saccharin causes cancer in male rats by a mechanism not found in humans. At high doses, saccharin causes a precipitate to form in rat urine. This precipitate damages the cells lining the bladder ("urinary bladder urothelial cytotoxicity") and a tumor forms when the cells regenerate ("regenerative hyperplasia"). According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, "Saccharin and its salts was downgraded from Group 2B, possibly carcinogenic to humans, to Group 3, not classifiable as to carcinogenicity to humans, despite sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity to animals, because it is carcinogenic by a non-DNA-reactive mechanism that is not relevant to humans because of critical interspecies differences in urine composition."
In 2001, the United States repealed the warning label requirement, while the threat of an FDA ban had already been lifted in 1991. Most other countries also permit saccharin but restrict the levels of use, while other countries have outright banned it.
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