For over 35 years, aspartame has been sweetening the diets of many Americans. Aspartame is an artificial calorie-free sugar substitute with sweetening power 200 times stronger than table sugar.
Since appearing on the sugar substitute scene, it has replaced saccharin as the sweetener of choice for diet soft drinks, powdered diet soft drinks, low-sugar yogurts, and even some vitamin and cold remedies.
Aspartame by Any Other Name Would Taste as Sweet
The most common brands of aspartame are Equal (the blue packets that often grace the tables of restaurants) and NutraSweet. This sweetener is often used in diet sodas, puddings, ice cream, and much more. With an estimated more than 6,000 products containing aspartame on the U.S. market, consumers have lots of options. However, with its intense sweetness, substituting aspartame for sugar can be a bit tricky.
Cooking With Aspartame Not Recommended
Aspartame cannot withstand high heat, so you can't use it as a sugar replacement for home baking or cooking. Sucralose (Splenda) is a better choice for your kitchen because it's heat-stable and can be subbed into most recipes that call for sugar.
If you are looking to cook with aspartame, you must consider its chemical properties. Aspartame is a methyl ester that is not able to stand up to high temperatures or high pH levels (very acidic environments).
Simply put, baking or heating aspartame will cause it to denature or change its characteristics. This changing stability is one reason why packaged foods and beverages that contain aspartame will often blend it with another sweetener to help stabilize the product.
Aspartame Best for No-Heat Recipes
The everyday sugar-free cook who is not looking to heat or bake food or make preserves should have aspartame in their cupboard. It’s a low-cost, sugar-free sweetener with many applications. When cooking with aspartame, think of summer-friendly thirst quenchers, no-bake, and no-heat recipes. Try cooling off with fresh lemonade sweetened with aspartame, or tossing a salad with a vinaigrette sweetened with a touch of aspartame to balance out the flavor.
According to the American Medical Association, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and the American Diabetes Association, aspartame is considered safe when used as part of a healthy eating plan.
Contrary to pervasive rumors, aspartame isn't poisonous, doesn't cause cancer, and it's not a pesticide. The sweetener has been blamed for causing brain tumors, leukemia, and many other ailments and has been the topic of urban legends for many years. No credible studies have found any relationships between aspartame and these diseases, though. In fact, it's been shown to be safe in more than 200 studies.