Time for more Masters of Social Gastronomy recapping! Last month we covered sugar and artificial sweeteners.
In 1937 Michael Svaeda was working in a lab on drugs to control fever. While, you know, smoking a cigarette.
He put the cigarette down to do some Science, and when he picked it up... sweetness! While it might have been the first candy cigarette that actually featured tobacco, the important part was the compound he'd spilled: cyclamate.
Cyclamate is only about 30 times sweeter than sugar, and 10% as strong as saccharin. Despite its relative lack of sweetening power, cyclamate was a blessing to the world of artifical sweeteners.
Cyclamate's most important feature was that it didn't taste bad. Even though saccharin was plenty popular with diabetics and dieters, it was still plagued by a bitter, metallic aftertaste. A mixture of the two quickly became popular, as cyclamate hid the aftertaste while saccharin provided the necessary sweetness boost.
If you're wondering why we don't have cyclamate these days, you can thank the Sugar Association, an industry group formed in 1943 to protect sugar's image from government rationing programs.
Cyclamate cost 90% less than sugar and sweetened just as well. What to do if you're the sugar industry? Form the International Sugar Research Foundation and fund shady research looking to cast cyclamate as the bad guy.
John Hickson, the research director of the ISRF, told the NYT. "If anyone can undersell you nine cents out of 10, you'd better find some brickbat you can throw at him." Sounds like a real cool guy.
They found that brickbat, too - after burning through about $500,000 in the 70's ($4 million in today's money) they discovered cyclamate could cause bladder cancer in rats. This was followed promptly by a ban by the FDA.
His job accomplished, Hickson then left to work for Big Tobacco.
More recently it was discovered this was due to the pH in the bladder of rats, as well as an interaction with a certain protein. Turns out humans have a totally different pH and lack the protein that caused the cancer, so as long as you're a human, cyclamate's plenty safe.
While it's still banned in the US, the rest of the world seems to be awash in it. If you're looking to sneak a taste of it, though, you're somewhat in luck: it's legal in Canada and Mexico, and Sweet 'N Low in Canada is actually made out of cyclamate (saccharin is illegal there).
Who's up for an artificial sweetener road trip?
If you'd like to read a fantastic history of the sugar industry's abuse of the research system, you should check out Big Sugar's Sweet Little Lies from Mother Jones.