How was diet soda invented?
A diet fizzy drink (or soda) is normally defined by reducing the level of sugar in the drink, this normally results in a sugar substitute. As with many discoveries (check out our accidently discovers page) the first artificial sweetener was by accident. In the late 19th Century Constantin Fahlberg, a lab assistant for the famed chemist Ira Remsen was eating his dinner at home when he noticed that everything was tasting sweet. He continued his meal with everything that he touched being exceptionally sweet. Fahlberg it had turned out had not washed his hands after getting chemicals all over them while at the lab and something he had touched during the day had led to this sweetness.
In what appears a crazy move he then returned to his lab and tasted the content of every beaker and evaporating dish on his lab table. Luckily nothing was corrosive or poisonous and he discovered the substance that was on his hands. It was from an overheated beaker and as the Baltimore Sun reported this beaker “in which o-sulfobenzoic acid had reacted with phosphorus (V) chloride and ammonia, producing benzoic sulfinide.” Fahlberg and Ira Remsen jointly published a paper together describing the “saccharin synthesis” process.
During the early 20th century the popularity of the saccharin as a sugar substitute grew. It was exceptionally easy to make and could be produced very cheaply and importantly it was very nearly 200 – 700 times as sweet as sugar. Much like other drugs such as cocaine, doctors started to prescribe as a fix all treatment!
With sugar being rationed during World War I and II, saccharin became a very common ingredient in the US and Europe. Following World War II its popularity began to decline after research indicating that large dose of it could lead to bladder tumours and cancer in mine. Apart from the health issues, the taste was also of concern with many reporting it left a metallic taste in people’s mouths, leading to the rise in other sugar substitutes .
The first diet soda, No Cal, was sold in the early 50’s due to the classic business of supply and demand. A prominent Jewish Soda store owner, Hyman Kirsch invested some of his accumulated fortune in a Jewish Medical Center. While in his role as vice-president at this institution, he noticed that large number of patients were diabetic and unable to drink he sugary drinks. He wanted to provide a soda that diabetics could drink so started to investigate sugar-free drinks. Saccharin was dismissed due to the health issues so as explained in a 1953 New York Times article about him and his son Morris, the two
“got together in their own laboratories with Dr. S. S. Epstein, their research man, and explored the field of synthetic sweeteners. Saccharin and other chemical sweeteners left a metallic aftertaste. Then, from a commercial laboratory, they got cyclamate calcium, and No-Cal was accepted by the diabetic and those with cardiovascular illnesses who could not tolerate salts in the sanitarium.”
No Cal was available in root beer and their traditional black cherry, with lime, cola, and chocolate beind added later. In addition to marketing to diabetics they also started to market it to health and weight conscious women using sale pitches such as “Time to Switch to No-Cal. Absolutely Non-Fattening.”
After only a few months in production their No Cal products were turning over $5 million per year (about $43 in todays money). The next company to follow was Canada Dry with a product called Glamour and Royal Crown Cola. The biggest drink companies they followed with Coca-Cola’s Tab and Pepsi’s Patio Cola.
So from a man working in lab who didn’t wash his hands properly the diet soda was invented!