Page last updated July 2021
Intense sweeteners are many times sweeter than sugar which means they can be used in much smaller amounts. They are classed as food additives and added to foods to replace sugar to provide low or lower energy/kilojoule foods or foods that are reduced in sugar or sugar-free.
Some intense sweeteners occur naturally in some plants and can be extracted to produce a highly concentrated extract. Examples are steviol glycosides extracted from the South American plant
Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni (stevia) and monk fruit extract (also called luo han guo extract) which is derived from the fruit of a perennial vine native to southern China.
How are intense sweeteners assessed for safety?
We conduct a thorough
safety assessment of all food additives, including intense sweeteners, before they are approved for use in food. We ensure that:
Find out how we ensure the safety of food additives.
Watch our video on how we assess risk from chemicals in food.
Acesulphame potassium (Acesulphame-K) is 200 times sweeter than sugar. It is made from an acid and the naturally occurring mineral, potassium. It's used as a tabletop sweetener, and in many foods including drinks, confectionery and canned foods, as well as oral hygiene products and pharmaceuticals. An ADI of 15 mg/kg bw/day has been established based on animal studies.
Advantame is 20,000 times sweeter than sugar and is permitted in a range of foods. It is made from Aspartame (see below) and vanillin, an extract of the vanilla bean. An ADI of 5 mg/kg bw/day has been established based on animal studies.
Alitame is about 2,000 times sweeter than sugar. Like Aspartame it is made up of the 2 amino acids, aspartic acid and alanine. Unlike aspartame, phenylalanine is not a by-product of digestion and so it is suitable for people with Phenylketonuria (PKU). It is used in products including toiletries and pharmaceuticals, but rarely as a sweetener in foods. An ADI of 0 to 1mg/kg bw/day has been established based on animal studies.
Aspartame is more than 200 times sweeter than sugar. It is used in low-energy or sugar-free foods, including carbonated soft drinks, yoghurt and confectionery. It is made by joining together the amino acids aspartic acid and phenylalanine. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins and are found naturally in many foods. An ADI of 0 to 40 mg/kg bw/day has been established based on animal studies. Aspartame has been studied extensively and to date, no adverse effects have been demonstrated.
People with the rare inherited disorder called Phenylketonuria (PKU) must be alerted to the presence of phenylalanine in aspartame containing products via labelling, so that they can limit their daily intake. More information about PKU and the labelling requirement relating to phenylalanine is provided below.
Aspartame-acesulphame salt is a mix of aspartame and acesulphame-K. It's about 350 times sweeter than sugar and is used in many foods including drinks, confectionery and chewing gum. As with aspartame, people with phenylketonuria (PKU) must limit their intake of aspartame-acesulphame salt.
Cyclamate is 30 to 50 times sweeter than sugar and exists in salt (sodium or calcium) forms prepared from an acid. It's used in confectionery and many other foods and drinks, and is often paired with saccharin in foods to improve the taste. An ADI of 0 to 11 mg/kg bw/day has been established based on animal studies.
Monk fruit extract is derived from the fruit of
Siraitia grosvenorii, a perennial vine native to southern China. It is between 250 and 400 times sweeter than sugar. Our risk assessment found that there were no public health and safety issues associated with monk fruit extract. Therefore, an ADI wasn't set.
Neotame is 7,000 to 13,000 times sweeter than sugar and is a modified form of Aspartame. It's used in canned fruit, drinks and confectionery. Neotame is similar to aspartame, but releases only small amounts of phenylalanine, so doesn't need a label advising people with PKU about phenylalanine. An ADI of 0 to 2 mg/kg bw/day has been established based on animal studies.
Saccharin was the first intense sweetener to be discovered and is about 300 times sweeter than sugar. It is available in four forms: acid saccharin, sodium saccharin, potassium saccharin and calcium saccharin. The starting material for its production is methyl anthranilate, which is found in many fruit juices. It is used in many foods including drinks and confectionery, as well as in medicines and toothpaste. An ADI of 0-5 mg/kg bw/day has been established based on animal studies.
Steviol glycosides are around 150 to 300 times sweeter than sugar and are used in a range of foods. An acceptable daily intake (ADI) of 0-4 mg/kg body weight has been established. Read more about steviol glycosides
Sucralose is about 600 times sweeter than sugar and has no kilojoules. It is made by replacing three hydrogen-oxygen groups on a sugar molecule with three chlorine groups. It is commonly used in food and drinks. An ADI of 0 to15 mg/kg bw/day has been established based on animal studies.
Thaumatin is an intensely sweet-tasting protein (about 2000-3000 times sweeter than sugar) and originates from the Katemfe Fruit which is native to Sudan and West Africa. No ADI is specified because of a good safety profile.
Other food additives can sweeten foods, but are generally less sweet than sugar and are often used for their other properties, for example, to thicken or stabilise foods. Sugar alcohols are neither sugars nor alcohols. They have a chemical structure that partially resembles sugar and partially resembles alcohol, but they don't contain ethanol as alcoholic beverages do. You can't completely digest these sugar alcohols, and eating too much of them can have a laxative effect. When sugar alcohols are used in foods as sweeteners above certain levels, the label must advise that excess consumption may have a laxative effect. Sugar alcohols include lactitol, maltitol, maltitol syrup, mannitol, xylitol, erythritol, isomalt, polydextrose and sorbitol.
Food additives, including sweeteners, in most packaged food must be listed in the statement of ingredients on the label. Intense sweeteners are listed under the class name 'sweetener' followed by the name of the sweetener or its international code number. For example, 'sweetener (951)' or 'sweetener (aspartame)'.
Read more about additive labelling
Labelling is particularly important for consumers with the rare inherited disorder called Phenylketonuria (PKU). PKU is characterised by a deficiency in an enzyme needed to breakdown the amino acid phenylalanine (a product of aspartame) in the human body. When this enzyme is deficient phenylalanine can accumulate to harmful levels. People with PKU need to limit their intake of foods that contain phenylalanine. Packaged foods that contain aspartame or aspartame-acesulphame salt must be labelled to advise consumers that the food contains phenylalanine.
Chemicals in food video