Cyclamate is an artificial sweetener that was banned in the U.S. in 1969, out of fear that it caused cancer in rats. Its successor, saccharin, was also implicated in rat cancers, but was shown not to cause cancer in primates, and still enjoys some success in modern markets. (Plus, the rat now has to drink the equivalent of 2 or 3 liters of sweetened beverage a day to risk cellular chaos.) Many American consumers who'd grown used to cyclamate missed it after it was banned, most notably since its aftertaste wasn't as strongly bitter as saccharin's.
Aspartame (NutraSweet®, and an ingredient in Equal®) appeared as its next successor in the 1980s. It is one of the most studied and vetted food additives in the world and is considered safe in over 70 countries. Since then, sucralose (Splenda®, another artificial sweetener) and stevia (extracted from the leaves of the flowering plant stevia rebaudiana, and thus not artificial) have started horning in on the nearly-calorie-free sweetener market too.
How was it invented?
In 1937, a grad student was trying to make a synthetic anti-fever medication. He put his cigarette down on his lab bench, picked it up again, and discovered that it tasted sweet. We swear we're not making this up.
Is it really harmful?
Bacteria living in your gut can break down cyclamate into cyclohexylamine, which is suspected (but not conclusively proven) to have some chronic toxic effect in various animal species -- and which, even worse, has a long and therefore scary-sounding chemical name. The general feeling at the time cyclamate was banned in the US was that simply waving it near rats gave them cancer. But apparently, further research disagrees. 55 countries, including Canada, still permit cyclamate to be added to food. The U.S. FDA now states that a review of all available evidence does not implicate cyclamate as a carcinogen in mice or rats -- but the ban still has not been lifted.
Cyclamate was also implicated in making your balls shrink. However, a 2003 paper reports that an epidemiological study "demonstrates no effect of cyclamate or cyclohexylamine on male fertility at the present levels of cyclamate consumption."
- Packard, Vernal S. (1976). Processed foods and the consumer: additives, labeling, standards, and nutrition. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. pp. 332. ISBN 0-8166-0778-8.
- Serra-Majem, L. Bassas, L. García-Glosas, R. Ribas, L. Inglés, C. Casals, I. Saavedram, P. Renwick, A. G. "Cyclamate intake and cyclohexylamine excretion are not related to male fertility in humans".