Acesulfame potassium, also known as Acesulfame K, is an artificial sweetener. It was first discovered in 1967 by chemist Karl Clauss, working at the time for the company that would become Nutrinova. It is sold under a number of trade names, most notably Sweet One® and Sunett®. It has a wide variety of applications, and is widely used in food and drink both in the United States and Europe, and it has been approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration, and equivalent organizations in Europe.
Chemically speaking, acesulfame potassium is a potassium salt of 6-methyl-1,2,3-oxathiazine-4(3H)-one,2,2-dioxide, with the molecular formula C4H4KNO4S. It appears similar to sugar or other sugar substitutes, as a white crystal powder. It has a melting point of 437 degrees Fahrenheit (225 Celsius), making it quite a bit more stable than some other sugar substitutes, like aspartame. For this reason, acesulfame potassium is often used in situations where aspartame would not be appropriate, like baking, or products meant to sit on a shelf for long periods of time.
When used in soft drinks, acesulfame potassium is often blended with other sugar substitutes, especially aspartame and sucralose. Combining these different artificial sweeteners helps to mask the somewhat bitter aftertaste common to all of them, as well as creating the sensation of an even greater sweetness. Other compounds may also be used to try to mask the bitterness, such as sodium ferulate, helping to make products using the sweetener taste more like traditionally-sweetened products.
Like other popular artificial sweeteners, acesulfame potassium is incredibly sweet when compared to common sugar. It is roughly 200 times sweeter than normal sucrose, making it about as sweet as aspartame. This also means it is about half as sweet as saccharin, and a quarter as sweet as sucralose. This intense sweetness means that small amounts can be used to bring a product to a desired level of sweetness, saving on cost and volume.
Also like many other artificial sweeteners, acesulfame potassium has no caloric value at all, making it ideal for use in diet versions of popular drinks or foods. The body is unable to metabolize the substance at all, passing it through without processing it, allowing it to confer taste without adding nutritive value or caloric value to the food or drink. It has a number of other benefits as well, including the fact that it doesn’t add to tooth decay, and has no effect on serum glucose, making it suitable to diabetics.
There are health concerns about acesulfame potassium which are largely the same as those that plague other artificial sweeteners. Fears that it may be carcinogenic continue to concern advocacy groups, although the USFDA and other organizations have repeatedly stated there is no evidence that their use causes cancer. The Center for Science in the Public Interest has stated that the FDA was petitioned in 1988 not to approve acesulfame potassium because of studies which seemed to link its use to lung tumors and breast tumors. There is also some concern that the use of acesulfame potassium may aggravate reactive hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar attacks.