Raysonho via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain 

The Sweet and Not-So-Sweet History of Saccharin

Raysonho via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain 

When it was first introduced to the public, saccharin seemed to be a miracle. The substance is about 300 times as sweet as sugar, and it doesn't have any calories. What’s not to love about that?

But not everything in saccharin's history is sweet. The story of the sugar substitute begins in the labs of Johns Hopkins University, where Dr. Ira Remsen became the first chemistry professor in 1876. One of his earliest laboratory residents was postdoctoral student Constantin Fahlberg, a Russian chemist whom Remsen met when the H.W. Perot Import Firm hired both of them to research sugar impurities.

In 1878, Remsen and Fahlberg were working on various products derived from coal tar. One night that June, Fahlberg worked late in the lab and went home to his supper in a hurry, neglecting to wash his hands. The bread he ate was unusually sweet, and so was his drink. Even his napkin tasted sweet. Eventually Fahlberg realized that he was sipping his drink from an area of his cup that his fingers had touched. He tasted his thumb, and then ran back to the laboratory to work on the newly discovered “coal tar sugar,” which he named saccharin.

Fahlberg and Remsen co-authored research papers on saccharin over the next few years, but Fahlberg struck out on his own when he obtained a German patent for the compound in 1884, followed by a series of American patents. Remsen was upset that Fahlberg applied for the patent on his own: He wasn’t all that interested in the commercial production of saccharin, but felt it important that his contribution to the discovery be acknowledged. Remsen was especially incensed at how Fahlberg’s account of the discovery neglected to even mention the lead researcher.

Fahlberg opened a saccharin factory near Magdeburg, Germany, and another in the U.S. While saccharin sold well enough to make Fahlberg a wealthy man, sales went mostly to food manufacturers who used it as an additive. Consumers bought saccharin, too, but not as much, since regular sugar was readily available and didn't have the metallic aftertaste of saccharin.

Saccharin had its fans, however—including one in the White House. Theodore Roosevelt was president when the Pure Food and Drug Act, designed to protect the public from food adulteration and unsafe ingredients, was passed in 1906. Harvey Wiley, the chief chemist for the USDA, was charged with investigating dangerous foods. But when he broached the subject of the safety of saccharin in 1908, he hit a sore spot with the president. Roosevelt’s doctor had prescribed a sugar-free diet, and Roosevelt used saccharin in its place. Wiley described saccharin as “… a coal tar product totally devoid of food value and extremely injurious to health."

Roosevelt was insulted. His response: "Anybody who says saccharin is injurious to health is an idiot." The remark proved to be the end of the two men's personal relationship.

In 1912, the use of saccharin was banned in the manufacture of processed foods, but it was still sold to consumers as a stand-alone product. Diabetics and people wishing to lose weight regularly purchased saccharin—but when a sugar shortage caused a massive price increase during World War I, its use really exploded. The same thing happened during World War II.

Meanwhile, the question of saccharin’s safety wasn't fully settled. In the 1950s, another sugar substitute called cyclamate was approved for sale. A combination of cyclamate and saccharin proved very popular, in part because the cyclamate canceled out the bitter aftertaste of the saccharin. The new combination led to a boom in diet soft drinks, until two 1968 studies indicating that cyclamate caused bladder cancer in laboratory rats prompted the FDA to ban the sweetener.

National Cancer Institute via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

A 1970 study showed some disturbing evidence of saccharin also causing bladder cancer in rats, and the substance was banned in 1977. This time, food manufacturers, lobbyists, and consumers immediately fought back, wary of losing their last artificial sweetener. The ban was soon changed to a warning, and labels were added to products that contained saccharin.

However, later studies showed that the increased incidence of bladder cancer was only applicable to rats, due to their particular biology. The results of the earlier studies were not transferable to humans. In 2000, saccharin was taken off the government’s list of known carcinogens, and the warning labels were discontinued. While other sugar substitutes have since been developed, saccharin still remains one of the most popular. Sold under the brand names Sweet'N Low, Sweet Twin, NectaSweet, and others, it accounted for 70 percent of the world demand for artificial sweeteners as of 2001, with world sales totaling hundreds of millions of dollars [PDF].

8 Things We Know About Stranger Things Season 3

[Warning: There are lots of Stranger Things season two spoilers ahead.]

Stranger Things season two is in the books, and like we all hoped, it turned out to be a worthy follow-up to an addictive debut season. Now, though, we’re left with plenty of questions, mysteries, and theories to chew on as the wait for a third season begins. But for everything we don’t know about what the next year of Stranger Things will bring us (such as an actual release date), there are more than enough things we do know to keep those fan theories coming well into 2018. While the show hasn't been officially greenlit for a third season by Netflix yet, new details have already begun to trickle out. Here’s everything we know about Stranger Things season three so far.


The third season of Stranger Things won’t pick up right where the second one left off. Like the show experienced between the first two seasons, there will be a time jump between seasons two and three as well. The reason is simple: the child actors are all growing up, and instead of having the kids look noticeably older without explanation for year three, the Duffer Brothers told The Hollywood Reporter:

“Our kids are aging. We can only write and produce the show so fast. They're going to be almost a year older by the time we start shooting season three. It provides certain challenges. You can't start right after season two ended. It forces you to do a time jump. But what I like is that it makes you evolve the show. It forces the show to evolve and change, because the kids are changing.”


If the series’s second season was about expanding the Stranger Things mythology, the third season won't go bigger just for the sake of it, with the brothers even going so far as to say that it will be a more intimate story.

“It’s not necessarily going to be bigger in scale,” Matt Duffer said in an interview with IndieWire. “What I am really excited about is giving these characters an interesting journey to go on.”

Ross Duffer did stress, though, that as of early November, season three is basically “… Matt and me working with some writers and figuring out where it’s going to go.”


The second season ended on a bit of a foreboding note when it was revealed that the Mind Flayer was still in the Upside Down and was seen looming over the Hawkins school as the winter dance was going on. Though we know there will be a time jump at the start of next season, it’s clear that the monster will still have a big presence on the show.

Executive producer Dan Cohen told TV Guide: "There were other ways we could have ended beyond that, but I think that was a very strong, lyrical ending, and it really lets us decide to focus where we ultimately are going to want to go as we dive into Season 3."

What does the Mind Flayer’s presence mean for the new crop of episodes? Well, there will be plenty of fan theories to ponder between now and the season three premiere (whenever that may be).


The Duffer Brothers had a lot of material for the latest season of the show—probably a bit too much. Talking to Vulture, Matt Duffer detailed a few details and plot points that had to be pushed to season three:

"Billy was supposed to have a bigger role. We ended up having so many characters it ended up, in a way, more teed up for season three than anything. There was a whole teen supernatural story line that just got booted because it was just too cluttered, you know? A lot of that’s just getting kicked into season three."

The good news is that he also told the site that this wealth of cut material could make the writing process for the third season much quicker.


Stranger Things already had a roster of fan-favorite characters heading into season two, but newcomer Erica, Lucas’s little sister, may have overshadowed them all. Played by 11-year-old Priah Ferguson, Erica is equal parts expressive, snarky, and charismatic. And the Duffer Brothers couldn’t agree more, saying that there will be much more Erica next season.

“There will definitely be more Erica in Season 3,” Ross Duffer told Yahoo!. “That is the fun thing about the show—you discover stuff as you’re filming. We were able to integrate more of her in, but not as much you want because the story [was] already going. ‘We got to use more Erica’—that was one of the first things we said in the writers’ room.”

“I thought she’s very GIF-able, if that’s a word,” Matt Duffer added. “She was great.”


The season two episode “The Lost Sister” was a bit of an outlier for the series. It’s a standalone episode that focuses solely on the character Eleven, leaving the central plot and main cast of Hawkins behind. As well-received as Stranger Things season two was, this episode was a near-unanimous miss among fans and critics.

The episode did, however, introduce us to the character of Kali (Linnea Berthelsen), who has the ability to manipulate people’s minds with illusions she creates. Despite the reaction, the Duffers felt the episode was vital to Eleven’s development, and that Kali won’t be forgotten moving forward.

“It feels weird to me that we wouldn’t solve [Kali’s] storyline. I would say chances are very high she comes back,” Matt Duffer said at the Vulture Festival.


We're already well acquainted with Eleven, and season two introduced us to Eight (a.k.a. Kali), and executive producer Shawn Levy heavily hinted to E! that there are probably more Hawkins Laboratory experiments on the horizon.

"I think we've clearly implied there are other numbers, and I can't imagine that the world will only ever know Eleven and Eight," Levy said.


Don’t be in too much of a rush to find out everything about the next season of Stranger Things; there might not be many more left. The Duffer Brothers have said in the past that the plan is to do four seasons and end it. However, Levy gave fans a glimmer of hope that things may go on a little while longer—just by a bit, though.

“Hearts were heard breaking in Netflix headquarters when the Brothers made four seasons sound like an official end, and I was suddenly getting phone calls from our actors’ agents,” Levy told Entertainment Weekly. “The truth is we’re definitely going four seasons and there’s very much the possibility of a fifth. Beyond that, it becomes I think very unlikely.”

Big Questions
Why Do Fruitcakes Last So Long?

Fruitcake is a shelf-stable food unlike any other. One Ohio family has kept the same fruitcake uneaten (except for periodic taste tests) since it was baked in 1878. In Antarctica, a century-old fruitcake discovered in artifacts left by explorer Robert Falcon Scott’s 1910 expedition remains “almost edible,” according to the researchers who found it. So what is it that makes fruitcake so freakishly hardy?

It comes down to the ingredients. Fruitcake is notoriously dense. Unlike almost any other cake, it’s packed chock-full of already-preserved foods, like dried and candied nuts and fruit. All those dry ingredients don’t give microorganisms enough moisture to reproduce, as Ben Chapman, a food safety specialist at North Carolina State University, explained in 2014. That keeps bacteria from developing on the cake.

Oh, and the booze helps. A good fruitcake involves plenty of alcohol to help it stay shelf-stable for years on end. Immediately after a fruitcake cools, most bakers will wrap it in a cheesecloth soaked in liquor and store it in an airtight container. This keeps mold and yeast from developing on the surface. It also keeps the cake deliciously moist.

In fact, fruitcakes aren’t just capable of surviving unspoiled for months on end; some people contend they’re better that way. Fruitcake fans swear by the aging process, letting their cakes sit for months or even years at a stretch. Like what happens to a wine with age, this allows the tannins in the fruit to mellow, according to the Wisconsin bakery Swiss Colony, which has been selling fruitcakes since the 1960s. As it ages, it becomes even more flavorful, bringing out complex notes that a young fruitcake (or wine) lacks.

If you want your fruitcake to age gracefully, you’ll have to give it a little more hooch every once in a while. If you’re keeping it on the counter in advance of a holiday feast a few weeks away, the King Arthur Flour Company recommends unwrapping it and brushing it with whatever alcohol you’ve chosen (brandy and rum are popular choices) every few days. This is called “feeding” the cake, and should happen every week or so.

The aging process is built into our traditions around fruitcakes. In Great Britain, one wedding tradition calls for the bride and groom to save the top tier of a three-tier fruitcake to eat until the christening of the couple’s first child—presumably at least a year later, if not more.

Though true fruitcake aficionados argue over exactly how long you should be marinating your fruitcake in the fridge, The Spruce says that “it's generally recommended that soaked fruitcake should be consumed within two years.” Which isn't to say that the cake couldn’t last longer, as our century-old Antarctic fruitcake proves. Honestly, it would probably taste OK if you let it sit in brandy for a few days.

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