We know they're not sugar, but artificial sweeteners still have a way of making us taste sugar (or at least something close to it). But just how do they do that?
In this video put together by the American Chemical Society's Reactions, they take on the question of how we taste sweetness. They start with the simpler question of how sugar itself is processed by our tastebuds, but quickly transition into how artificial sweeteners are able to find a similar, though not quite, effect.
Sugar gets its sweet taste by being a molecular fit into a three-pronged chemical receptor for sweetness. Artificial sweeteners aim at those same receptors, but the molecule and its fit are both different. For instance, artificial sweetener aspartame, which Reactions describes as chemically more similar to meat than sugar, is able to maintain a partial fit to the sweetness receptors, resulting in a taste that is sweet, but still not quite a sugar.
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