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What is Acesulfame Potassium?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated May 21, 2024
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Acesulfame potassium, also known as Acesulfame K, is an artificial sweetener. It was first discovered in 1967 by chemist Karl Clauss, working at the time for the company that would become Nutrinova. It is sold under a number of trade names, most notably Sweet One® and Sunett®. It has a wide variety of applications, and is widely used in food and drink both in the United States and Europe, and it has been approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration, and equivalent organizations in Europe.

Chemically speaking, acesulfame potassium is a potassium salt of 6-methyl-1,2,3-oxathiazine-4(3H)-one,2,2-dioxide, with the molecular formula C4H4KNO4S. It appears similar to sugar or other sugar substitutes, as a white crystal powder. It has a melting point of 437 degrees Fahrenheit (225 Celsius), making it quite a bit more stable than some other sugar substitutes, like aspartame. For this reason, acesulfame potassium is often used in situations where aspartame would not be appropriate, like baking, or products meant to sit on a shelf for long periods of time.

When used in soft drinks, acesulfame potassium is often blended with other sugar substitutes, especially aspartame and sucralose. Combining these different artificial sweeteners helps to mask the somewhat bitter aftertaste common to all of them, as well as creating the sensation of an even greater sweetness. Other compounds may also be used to try to mask the bitterness, such as sodium ferulate, helping to make products using the sweetener taste more like traditionally-sweetened products.

Like other popular artificial sweeteners, acesulfame potassium is incredibly sweet when compared to common sugar. It is roughly 200 times sweeter than normal sucrose, making it about as sweet as aspartame. This also means it is about half as sweet as saccharin, and a quarter as sweet as sucralose. This intense sweetness means that small amounts can be used to bring a product to a desired level of sweetness, saving on cost and volume.

Also like many other artificial sweeteners, acesulfame potassium has no caloric value at all, making it ideal for use in diet versions of popular drinks or foods. The body is unable to metabolize the substance at all, passing it through without processing it, allowing it to confer taste without adding nutritive value or caloric value to the food or drink. It has a number of other benefits as well, including the fact that it doesn’t add to tooth decay, and has no effect on serum glucose, making it suitable to diabetics.

There are health concerns about acesulfame potassium which are largely the same as those that plague other artificial sweeteners. Fears that it may be carcinogenic continue to concern advocacy groups, although the USFDA and other organizations have repeatedly stated there is no evidence that their use causes cancer. The Center for Science in the Public Interest has stated that the FDA was petitioned in 1988 not to approve acesulfame potassium because of studies which seemed to link its use to lung tumors and breast tumors. There is also some concern that the use of acesulfame potassium may aggravate reactive hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar attacks.

All The Science is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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Discussion Comments
By anon936000 — On Feb 27, 2014

I just drank this in my beverage not knowing it was in the creamer. After two swallows I experienced a headache which started behind my left upper eye and felt as though it went to the center of my brain, The headache seemed to increase and affect my vision. I have a history of migraine headaches with vision disturbance. I really hope this does not trigger a migraine for me. I will never knowingly drink this.

By anon344992 — On Aug 14, 2013

I never understood why scientists gave their test animals super large doses of whatever food additive they were testing. Someone from a lab finally explained that something considered safe for human consumption should be harmless if you ate one teaspoon or a truckload of the stuff. It's a way of speeding up the results so that scientists don't have to wait years to declare something safe or carcinogenic.

Yes, a lot of test animals were fed huge doses of sodium saccharine back in the 60s and 70s, and some of them developed cancer as a result. Would we humans ever eat that much artificial sweetener at one time? No. But the results also pointed out that something in saccharine could cause cancer, and that's why they declared it unsafe.

By anon261392 — On Apr 15, 2012

This is not a carcinogenic nor a hazardous product. I don't understand why people try to classify it otherwise. Seriously, look at the research.

By anon217791 — On Sep 26, 2011

I agreed with anon! The FDA is crap!

By anon142526 — On Jan 13, 2011

Supposedly they did research on rats and they showed no outcome of anything extremely bad. Three percent of the rats had some side effects. But in order for a human to drink as much as they were giving these rats, a human would have to consume like 1,200 12oz bottles a day.

I think if any human could do that, the Ace K is the least of their worries.

By anon139807 — On Jan 05, 2011

Acesulfame potassium has aspartame in it and it is associated with cancer, ALS and gout. makes me feel safe about its use.

Why do the FDA and Health Canada approve this stuff if it's bad for health? Imagine some poor lady undergoing chemo for breast cancer and suffering intense pain from gout as she eats food with this in it, contributing to her condition.

Would food processors using stevia and/or natural cane sugar be more beneficial. We should all lose our sweet tooth. in the long run it's better for our teeth.

By anon118097 — On Oct 12, 2010

I've been trying to find a list of side effects of ace K, and all I find is sites like this, quoting each other, listing the effects of methylene chloride, which is NOT a component of acesulfame K. Nor do any of these sites give a citation for the studies that allegedly showed it to be toxic.

By naturesgurl3 — On Jul 22, 2010

Acesulfame potassium is one of the artificial sweeteners that is approved for consumption during pregnancy though. Can it really be that bad?

By rallenwriter — On Jul 22, 2010

@zenmaster -- "Ace K" has been associated with quite a few side effects, though most of the studies done on the substance have been done on animals, not humans.

Besides the carcinogenic effects mentioned in the article, Ace K has also drawn fire for possible side effects from methylene chloride, which is used to manufacture Ace K.

Long term methylene chloride exposure can cause headaches, depression, and nausea, among other things.

That being said, Ace K is one of the least studied sweeteners, and research is ongoing and thus far inconclusive.

By zenmaster — On Jul 22, 2010

What are some common acesulfame potassium side effects?

Are they serious enough to avoid eating it altogether?

By anon87773 — On Jun 01, 2010

This is a great site. Seems strongly to be neutral and trustworthy information without a bias. The FDA is not trustworthy. Just look at what they say is safe and compare it to the EPA. Perfect example: sodium fluoride in drinking water and toothpaste! And MSG is making us fat and otherwise unhealthy. Look it up.

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