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.
FSANZ, together with the Ministry for Primary Industries in New Zealand recently conducted a review of all the intense sweeteners permitted for use in the Food Standards Code. A range of different sources of evidence were included such as sweetener use information and dietary exposure assessments. Steviol glycosides were reviewed in detail which included an analytical survey and risk assessment. No public health and safety issues were identified as a result of the review. For further information, see the full report below.
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:
- they are safe at the levels being proposed, and
- there is a technological purpose for their use.
Acesulphame potassium (950)
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 (962)
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
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 (960)
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.