Ever sat in a restaurant and people in the party ask for a sweetener for their iced tea or coffee? Inevitably someone asks for a specific kind – the pink one, the yellow one, the blue one. Each major type of sweetener used in restaurants has distinguished itself with a different color packaging. Soon there will undoubtedly be a new colored packet joining the pile. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a new super strong, artificial sweetener.
The high-intensity sweetener, advantame, received FDA approval this week for use as a flavor enhancer in foods. They gave approval for the product to be used as a tabletop sweetener, like the pink and blue packets. Advantame can also be used in place of sugar or high fructose corn syrup, so the new sweetener can also be used in baked goods, beverages, jams and jellies, fruit juice products, gelatins and puddings, chewing gum and other foods. Sugar substitutes enhance foods while adding few or no calories and generally not affecting blood sugar levels.
“Sugar substitutes are called ‘high-intensity’ because small amounts pack a large punch when it comes to sweetness,” Captain Andrew Zajac, from the U.S. Public Health Service and director of the FDA Division of Petition Review, explained in the agency’s news release announcing the new super artificial sweetener’s approval. Advantame has 0 calories. It is reportedly 20,000 times sweeter than sugar and an estimated 100 times sweeter than aspartame, according to the Calorie Control Council.
Advantame is a white powder that dissolves in water and remains stable even at higher temperatures, according to an FDA news release. Advantame is actually a derivative of aspartame and vanillin, which is an artificial flavor used in a variety of foods such as dairy, fruit, citrus and mint, according to Ajinomoto North America, Inc. The vanillin helps mask any potential off taste from alternative sweeteners.
The FDA’s approval of advantame was based on data from 37 animal and human studies submitted by Ajinomoto Co., Inc., the maker of the new sugar substitute. The studies were designed to identify any possible negative effects on the immune, reproductive and developmental, or nervous systems, according to Zajac.
Ajinomoto started the lengthy FDA approval process for advantame’s use within the U.S. in 2009. Australia and New Zealand have already approved advantame, according to Ajinomoto North America. Approvals are currently pending in the European Union and Japan.
The one caution the FDA noted about advantame is that it is chemically similar to aspartame (Equal – the blue packets). People who have a genetic called phenylketonuria (PKU) should avoid or limit their use of aspartame, according to the FDA. People with PKU have difficulty metabolizing phenylalanine, a component of both aspartame and advantame. Consequently, foods on the market with aspartame include label information warning people with PKU about the presence of phenylalanine. The FDA evaluated whether advantame should be required to carry similar PKU alerts. However, since advantame is so much sweeter than aspartame, a significantly smaller amount will be necessary to achieve the same amount of sweetness. As a result, the FDA determined that foods that contain advantame will not be required to include alerts for people with PKU.
The new artificial sweetener is the sixth high-intensity (or super) one that the FDA has approved for use in the U.S.. The last high-intensity sweetening product approved by the FDA was Neotame (brand name Newtame) in 2002. The other four sweeteners currently approved for use in the country are saccharin (Sweet’N Low), aspartame (Equal), sucralose (Splenda) and acesulfame potassium (Sweet One). Advantame does not yet have a brand name or – for those packets in restaurants – a color.
By Dyanne Weiss