Say hello to advantame, aspartame's intensely sweet cousin, which got the nod to enter the U.S. food market Wednesday from the Food and Drug Administration. Advantame — which does not yet having a catchy marketing name — is the sixth artificial sweetener on the U.S. market to receive the FDA's blessing as a safe food additive.
Advantame joins five other artificial sweeteners: saccharine, aspartame, sucralose, neotame and acesulfame potassium — better known by their commercial names, Sweet'N Low, Equal, Splenda and Newtame and Sweet One. (Stevia, made from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant, has not required explicit FDA approval, as it fell under the FDA's "generally regarded as safe" clause.)
Advantame is 20,000 times sweeter, gram per gram, than table sugar, making it the sweetest, by far, of the bunch. (By comparison, aspartame, sucralose and saccharine range from 200 to 700 times sweeter than table sugar.) It is a white crystalline sweetener that flows freely and dissolves in water.
Advantame does not break down under heat, and thus is expected to be used to sweeten baked goods, dessert confections, jams and jellies, and syrups and toppings, as well as soft drinks. (The FDA said it is not for use in meat and poultry.) Unlike sugar, honey or molasses, advantame and the other "high-intensity" sweeteners it joins on the U.S. market add no substantial calories to the foods or drinks they flavor. They also do not generally raise blood sugar levels in humans.
The safety of these artificial sweeteners has been challenged, and some nutritionists maintain their intense sweetness may confound normal metabolic processes and prime consumers' tastes for highly sweetened products. But the FDA declared advantame safe when consumed in concentrations that are customarily used.
Advantame contains phenylalanine, which is metabolized with difficulty by people with a rare genetic disorder, phenylketonuria. But because of its intense sweetness, advantame would be used at much lower volumes than is asparatame. As a result, the FDA has declared that it can be safely consumed by those with phenylketonuria.
The FDA set the safe daily consumption level of advantame at 32.8 milligrams per kilogram of body weight — the equivalent of 40,000 packets.