What is Saccharin?

Saccharin is a food additive used as an artificial sweetener. It has an E number of 954.  The name comes from the latin word for sugar, saccharum.

Other artificial sweeteners include:

photo of saccharin


Sweeteners like saccharin are not broken down by the body at all.  They provide no calories, and are frequently termed “zero-calorie” sweeteners.

It is roughly 300 times sweeter than regular table sugar.

It was discovered in 1878 by two scientists. Constantin Fahlberg and Ira Remsen worked in a laboratory at Johns Hopkins University. This makes it the oldest artificial sweetener.

Saccharin is not stable when heated.  As a result, it is not often used in baked goods.  On the other hand, it has a long shelf life because it does not react with other foods.

It is often combined with other artificial sweeteners.  These blends are produced so that each sweetener can compensate for the weaknesses of the others.

Common Uses:

In countries where it is allowed, saccharin is often used to sweeten drinks, candies, and cookies.  It is also used in medicines, and toothpaste.

Sweet’N Low™ is probably the most familiar form.  The pink packets used to sweeten tea and coffee are often found in restaurants.

Health Issues / Side Effects:

Saccharin has always been controversial.  in the 1970’s studies showed that it could cause bladder cancer in mice.  The U.S. Congress required that all food containing saccharin display the following warning label:

Use of this product may be hazardous to your health. This product contains saccharin, which has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals.

Later studies found that the causes of the cancer in mice did not apply to humans.

In 2000, the legislation was repealed. The warning labels were removed.  The Centre for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has been critical of this move.  They still believe that saccharin should be avoided. 


Saccharin has been banned in Canada for many years.  In 2014, Health Canada has decided to lift restrictions and allow its use.


  1. National Cancer Institute – Artificial Sweeteners and Cancer
  2. The National Library of Medicine – The Carcinogenicity of Saccharin
  3. Health Canada – Use of Saccharin in Various Unstandardized Foods
  4. Center for Science in the Public Interest

Further Reading

  1. Wikipedia – Saccharin
  2. Globe and Mail – Reality check: The raw truth about saccharin

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