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Regulatory Controversy, Does Cyclamate Cause Cancer?

Cyclamate (chemical formula C6H13NO3S) is an artificial, noncaloric sweetener with approximately 30 times the sweetness of ordinary table sugar. It is currently sold in more than 50 countries. In the United States, however, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not allowed its sale since 1970.

University of Illinois graduate student Michael Sveda first synthesized cyclamate in 1937. Some say that he discovered its sweet taste by chance when he accidentally got some on the cigarette he was smoking. The university eventually transferred patent rights to Abbott Laboratories, which brought the sweetener to market in 1950.

Most cyclamate sales were as a 10-1 mixture with saccharin, marketed under the brand name Sucaryl®. (Since saccharin is about 10 times as sweet as cyclamate, each compound contributed roughly half the mixture's sweetening power.) The mixture was attractive because the two compounds together are sweeter and better-tasting than either alone. Cyclamate alone becomes relatively less sweet as its concentration increases—that is, raising the concentration ten-fold increases the total sweetness only six-fold. Thus, if cyclamate were used alone in very sweet products such as soft drinks, manufacturers would have to use large amounts. Besides cost, this risks development of the "off" flavors sometimes encountered at high cyclamate concentrations.

Another reason for combining saccharin with cyclamate is that the sweet taste of cyclamate develops slowly, although it lingers attractively on the tongue. On the other hand, saccharin has a bitter aftertaste that is much less noticeable in the mixture than when saccharin is used alone. Indeed, cyclamate is better than sugar at masking bitter flavors.

Unlike more recent low-calorie sweeteners, cyclamate is extremely stable. It can be used in cooking or baking and in foods of any level of acidic or basic character. Scientists have found no detectable change in Sucaryl tablets stored for seven years or more.

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