Bausch & Lomb Compound Binocular Microscope (circa 1925)

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Loes Modderman

Saccharin-Dextrin Mixture

As the oldest artificial sweetener, saccharin is currently making a comeback after medical research pegged it as a demon rather than a savior for weight-conscious individuals and diabetics that cannot tolerate natural sugars without a severe glucose reaction because of insulin problems. Discovered in 1879 at John Hopkins University, saccharin was seen as a boon to the diets of diabetics, but opposed by many as unsafe to use in human diet. In 1911, President Teddy Roosevelt got involved in the regulatory review of saccharin and was quoted to say, "Anybody who says saccharin is injurious to health is an idiot."

Saccharin-Dextrin Mixture

Sugar rationing during the two World Wars made saccharin a product in high demand in Europe and the United States as a sugar substitute. By the 1960s, diet fads and concerns with an ever-burgeoning American populace pushed the growth of saccharin as a low-calorie sugar substitute into orbit in the familiar pink package of Sweet 'N Low. However, medical research on male laboratory rats indicated possible carcinogenicity for saccharin in the form of bladder tumors, leading to a public scare, particularly in the United States. This led to the rapid development of other reasonably priced, good-tasting sugar substitutes including aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal), sorbitol, sucralose, and acesulfame potassium. Although the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tried to act with an immediate saccharin ban, industry lobbyists and politicians prevented it. The pendulum of medical opinion has swung again, and many in the medical field now believe that the benefits from using saccharin in fighting the often-fatal effects of diabetes and obesity, while preventing tooth decay, greatly outweigh the potential risks. By 1997, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) delisted saccharin from the federal government's Report on Carcinogens. Today food, beverage, and pharmaceutical manufacturers use calcium saccharin in combination with other low-calorie, sugar-free substitutes in a multiple sweetener cocktail to tailor the sweetness intensity and flavor appropriate to specific consumer products. Of course, the highly-subsidized refined sugarcane and ailing sugar beet industries don't include this synthesized chemical in their cup of tea.

Known also as British gum, vegetable gum, starch gum, and sometimes tapioca, dextrin is an odorless, off-white amorphous crystalline powder that is quite soluble in water, but may form hazardous concentrations of combustible dust when used in improperly ventilated work areas. As a general name for a family of carbohydrate molecules, dextrin has the same general formula as starch, but is a relatively smaller and less complex molecule. As polysaccharides, dextrin molecules are produced as intermediates from the hydrolysis of starch by heat, acids, or enzymes. The properties of the dextrin molecules are largely determined from the type of parent starch they are derived from, including their characteristic colors (blue, reddish-brown, or colorless) and their reactivity to other substances such as iodine. In commercial processes, potato starch is moistened with weak nitric acid and dried at 110 degrees Celsius, while in our kitchens, dextrins form when breads or cereals are browned or toasted.

Commercially, dry starches are heated or are treated with acids to produce a colorless, tasteless, odorless powder that when dissolved in water, forms a strong adhesive paste. Dextrins are widely used in everyday consumer items such as postage stamps, envelopes, and wallpapers where taste and toxicity would be of major concern. They are also employed for sizing paper and textiles where odor and color might detract from their utilization. One type of dextrin, potato dextrin, is derived (as the name implies) from potato starch. When applied to black fabric, potato dextrin acts like a mask or resist that cools and cracks to form various patterns. A discharge agent is applied to the fabric that strips away the exposed black color, leaving the dextrin-coated regions black. The resulting fabric has intricate patterns and textures, which are then incorporated into quilts, wall coverings, and art pieces. Similar results are obtained with corn-derived dextrin. A dextrin derivative, dextrin sulfate, appears to be a safe, HIV microbiocide candidate. Culinary applications of dextrin compounds include use as a texture for foods, and thickeners in soups, pie fillings, and gravies. The biochemicals are also useful in pharmaceuticals (incorporated into pills and capsules as diluting agents), as a substitute for gum Arabic in printing cotton fabrics, and in the manufacture of beer.


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