Sweet as Sugar: Comparing the Sweetness of Sugar & Sugar Substitutes
Picture your favorite treats: chocolate fudge cake, vanilla ice cream, pink lemonade… Yum! Can you imagine what these might taste like without the sweet flavor of sugar? Your sweet tooth might be aching without the chemical compound of sucrose that is so appealing. Much of the food we eat contains sucrose or natural sweeteners such as honey. There are of course other sweetening options. Have you ever seen "zero-calorie and sugar-free lemonade" at the store and wondered how it was made? Perhaps you've tried sugar-free candy or diet soda. Scientists have developed artificial sweeteners that provide the taste of "sweet" without the sugar itself. How sweet are they? Get ready to make some of your own artificially sweetened lemonade and find out how it compares with lemonade made with real sugar. Prepare yourself for some sour and sweet scientific discovery!
This activity is not appropriate for use as a science fair project. Good science fair projects have a stronger focus on controlling variables, taking accurate measurements, and analyzing data. To find a science fair project that is just right for you, browse our library of over 1,200 Science Fair Project Ideas or use the Topic Selection Wizard to get a personalized project recommendation.
Artificial sweeteners are a common substitute for sucrose (sugar). Sucrose is a natural substance, a carbohydrate derived from sugar canes that is used by our bodies for energy. Sucralose, the sweetener in Splenda, is a manufactured alteration of the sucrose molecule. The compound cannot be broken down by the body and therefore is calorie-free. Other artificial sweeteners such as saccharin (in Sweet'n Low) work in the same manner, creating the sweet taste without the calories the body gets from sugar. How sweet are these synthetic compounds compared with sugar? You will test just that as you make your own sugar-free lemonade!
Extra: Can you make lemonade sweetened by sugar and artificial sweetener equal in sweetness? Start with the one that is bitterer and add more of its sweetening substance, in one-quarter teaspoon increments, until it tastes just as sweet as the other lemonade. How much of the substance did you need to add to make the lemonades equal in sweetness? Were you surprised by how much or how little you needed to add?
Observations and Results
Did you find that the lemonade made with artificial sweetener was sweeter than that made with sugar? Did the original sugar lemonade taste almost as sour and bitter as the pure lemon juice?
Artificial sweeteners are synthetic compounds designed to produce the intense sweet taste you observed in the artificially sweetened lemonade. In fact, the sweetness of artificial sweeteners is many times that of sugar. This means that if you add equal quantities of sugar and an artificial sweetener, the drink with the artificial sweetener will taste sweeter.
If you completed the "Extra" challenge, you may have seen that it took several teaspoons of sugar to equal the sweetness of the artificial sweetener. Splenda is 600 times sweeter than sugar and saccharine, found in Sweet'n Low, is 300 to 500 times sweeter. In the lemonade some of the sweetness is masked by the sourness of the lemon so you will not need to add 100 more teaspoons of sugar to get the same sweetness as one-quarter teaspoon of sweetener.
Although artificial sweetener does not add additional calories to foods and drinks that use it, we don't know exactly how it works inside our bodies after we consume it, so scientists are still looking into health effects.
More to ExploreComparing the Sweetness of Sugar and Sugar Substitutes, from Science Buddies
Sensory Science: Testing Taste Thresholds, from Scientific American
Artificial Sweeteners May Evict Good Gut Microbes, from Society for Science & the Public
Yeast Reproduction in Sugar Substitutes, from Science Buddies
Teisha Rowland, PhD, Science Buddies
Science Buddies |
Food science, artificial sweeteners, sugar, taste
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