Lawsuit: What Is The Meaning Of "Made From Sugar?"

Equal, once the nation’s leading brand of artificial sweetener, is suing competitor and current leader Splenda for misleading customers with its tag line “Made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar.” From the New York Times:

“The phrase ‘made from sugar’ may seem simple enough, but it has spawned an epic battle among the parties over proper diction and syntax,” the judge overseeing the case, Gene E. K. Pratter, wrote in an opinion last month.

“For example, McNeil claims that ‘made from sugar’ clearly excludes the interpretation that Splenda is sugar, or that Splenda is made with sugar,” she continued. “Made with sugar would mean that sugar is an ingredient listed on the package. Drawing upon an often effective rhetorical device, McNeil asks the question, how could a consumer interpret a product that is ‘made from sugar’ and ‘tastes like sugar’ as actually being sugar?”

Equal is seeking to force McNeil Splenda’s manufacturer to revamp their advertising and “disgorge” at least $176 million in Splenda’s profits. Is this fair? We don’t know. All we know is that both of them taste like !#&%. —MEGHANN MARCO

Makers of Artificial Sweeteners Go to Court [NYT]


Edit Your Comment

  1. humbleish says:

    I’ll disagree that Splenda tastes like “!#&%” ;-)

    I use it in coffee, baking, and just about anything I used to use sugar for (I’m diabetic with a huge sweet tooth, so Splenda is a godsend). It has less of an aftertaste than equal, and I’ve grown so accustomed to it, I actually prefer it in some things over sugar (coffee in particular). It tastes a little different than sugar, but I don’t think it’s any better or worse than sugar. I think their advertising pretty accurately describes the way the product is made.

    “McNeil adds three chlorine atoms that are naturally found in foods like salt and lettuce to a molecule of sucrose. The sucrose disappears in the manufacturing process, but the result – sucralose – is 600 times as sweet as ordinary table sugar. Splenda then mixes two bulking agents, dextrose and maltodextrin, into the sucralose.”

    That describes exactly how I would imagine something “made from sugar” was made. They take sugar, get all of the “bad” stuff out (bad for me = carbs), and package it.

  2. quagmire0 says:

    The bottom line is that Splenda is becoming a popular replacement for Equal and Sweet n Low, so their competitors are doing whatever they can to hurt them.

    Call me a Splenda nazi, but I love it.

  3. Seems like a Dog eat Dog world for the artificial/carcinogenic sweetener companies.

  4. Emrikol says:

    I’ll put a vote in for Splendia also. At least it doesn’t turn into embalming agents.

  5. kimdog says:

    Splenda is a much better than Equal (and both of them are better than nasty Sweet & Low). I drink Splenda in my tea and coffee all day long.

  6. Emrikol says:

    @Emrikol: Good lord, I can’t spell today.

  7. quagmire0 says:

    @Emrikol: I believe ‘Splendia’ is the Aldi brand knock-off. ;)

  8. lonelymaytagguy says:

    Diet Coke with Splenda (when you can find it) rules!

  9. axiomatic says:

    I suffer from kidney stones and my urologist (apparently well respected in Houston) says that the way Splenda is manufactured is “rough” your insides. Especially your kidneys. He claims its crystalline “chips” are sharp edged and stay sharp all the way through you and out scarring tissue the whole way.

    I’m unsure if this is true, just passing on what I learned.

  10. Emrikol says:

    @axiomatic: That _DOES_ sound interesting. I’d like to see some more info on that. *flies off to Wikipedia*

    Don’t wait up on me, this might take a while.

  11. Dervish says:

    I like Splenda in ice cream, and in kool-aid slushies. It’s good in Diet Rite soda, too, but Diet Coke w/Splenda gives me a funny soapy aftertaste. It’s weird – I’m normally not sensitive to any “diet-y” overtones from artificial sweetener but I really notice that one.

    That sounds fishy to me – I thought Splenda dissolved into solution and didn’t remain crystalline. I know dextrose is abrasive and I’m not sure about maltodextrin, but I thought it was the same story with both of them – that they dissolve in your saliva/stomach juice. I’m not a doctor though, so I’m not about to claim that a respected urologist is plain wrong.

  12. major disaster says:

    @lonelymaytagguy: That’s funny – I like Splenda a lot in coffee and tea, but I thought the Diet Coke with Splenda was nasty! (I like Coke Zero myself – I think that’s made with aspartame, which I generally don’t like in anything else.) Weird.

  13. Any sweetner substitute = instant migraine for me. Wish I could ingest the stuff, but I can’t.

  14. jeblis says:


    Nope they both taste like shit. I understand that you’ve had to get used to them, but I avoid anything with these products in them. All I can taste is their overwhelming nastiness. Unfortunately many products are starting to use half sugar and half artificial sweetener w/out using the diet moniker. This makes this horrible stuff even harder to identify. I had to stop consuming some of my favorite items when they “reformulated” to appear healthier. JuicyFruit tabs, Clearly Canadian (I believe this flopped and they went back to sugar)

  15. guroth says:

    Splenda causes explosive diarrhea in a number of consumers.
    Just google splenda and diarrhea..

  16. LAGirl says:

    i use Splenda in iced tea. don’t mind the taste. and it dissolves in the tea, as opposed to sugar, which just settles at the bottom.

    Equal is nasty. didn’t some study come out linking Aspartame/Phenylalanine to Alzheimers?

    and for the record: Splenda doesn’t give me ‘explosive diarrhea’

  17. mattbramanti says:

    Ditto LAGirl on the iced tea. I’m no scientist, but I suspect it dissolves easier because the granules appear to have a rougher, more irregular texture when compared to smooth sugar crystals. That means more surface area for the tea to work on.

    And I don’t see the problem with saying Splenda is “made from” sugar, even though it doesn’t have sugar as an ingredient. You start with sugar, run it through the process, and Splenda comes out the other end.

    It’s kind of like how natural gas can be made from garbage, even though it doesn’t contain banana peels and coffee grounds. You take garbage, run it through the process, and methane comes out the other end.

  18. mathew says:

    There’s something slightly plastic about the taste of Splenda, but it’s basically OK as far as I’m concerned.

    Certainly better than aspartame, saccharine, or acesulfame K.

  19. AcidReign says:

    …..Splenda has some shelf-life issues, too, as does Aspartame. To me, the best diet drink is tap water in an insulated mug, with large ice chunks.

    …..Soft drink? Dr. Pepper is WAY ahead of anyone else. Morning beverage? 3/4 mug of New Orleans Blend Community Coffee, 1/4 mug of real Half ‘n’ Half, no sweetner. Evening Beverage? Mondavi Pinot or Cabernet (look for the Napa stuff, not coastal!). After dinner: the Stinger (2 shots 80 proof brandy, 1 shot white creme de menthe.)

  20. alicetheowl says:

    I see there aren’t many supertasters amongst the Consumerist commenters. To you normaltasters, sure, there’s nothing wrong with the stuff. As a supertaster with a sweet tooth, I’d rather lick my bathroom floor clean than let any artificial sweeteners touch my tongue. Eugh.

  21. LLH says:

    just google ‘splenda’ and ‘toxic’…see what lovely things you come up with.
    then all you folks who have to use these sweetners – just try going one day, a whole 24 hours, with out using any of these chemicals. see how great you feel. like a crack addict without a crumb of the rock i’ll bet. if you MUST use a sweetner thats not sugar try stevia. the fda won’t approve it – why? because there’s not a chemical company pushing it down our throats. it’s natural and it’s helping people, not making them fatter or sicker.

  22. Dustbunny says:

    I like Lime Diet Coke w/Splenda — unlike other diet drinks it doesn’t have a weird, artificial aftertaste, IMO. And I don’t notice any withdrawal symptoms if I stop drinking it for a few weeks.

  23. mac-phisto says:

    lovely. another sweetener war. ahh, remember when saccharin caused cancer? nutrasweet paid for that study. & then equal pounced on nutrasweet & now splenda. i’ve got $10 that says an equal=death study comes out soon. things that make you go hmmmm.

  24. major disaster says:


    all you folks who have to use these sweetners – just try going one day, a whole 24 hours, with out using any of these chemicals. see how great you feel.

    I have, and do, all the time. Haven’t felt any different. But I’m sure everyone appreciates your concern.

  25. gina227 says:

    just try going one day, a whole 24 hours, with out using any of these chemicals. see how great you feel. like a crack addict without a crumb of the rock i’ll bet.

    Um, that’s how I feel when I don’t have any real sugar for a day. I haven’t noticed anything like that with Splenda, though.

  26. synergy says:

    First of all: “All we know is that both of them taste like !#&%.” Meghann, you’re my hero!

    @Bon Jour, Pee Wee: Glad I’m not the only one.

    @jeblis: Clearly Canadian uses sugar now althugh I’ve seen that some flavors do not.

    @alicetheowl: FTW!

  27. Bay State Darren says:

    I’m a fan of the artificial sweeteners (all brands w/no preferences) because they stir into coffee better than sugar. The only issue I’ve ever had is that damn urban myth that they’re carcinogenic. My ex-housemates, every time I’d have the box out, would bug me with the stupid line, “You know that stuff causes cancer, right?”

    However it was rather jolly whenever they’d, without even thinking about it, say this with cigarettes in their mouths.

  28. Indecision says:

    @LLH: “just google ‘splenda’ and ‘toxic’…see what lovely things you come up with.”

    A ton of links, none of which look like they come from a reputable, unbiased source. I see no reason to trust “The Holistic Healing Web Page” or the “World Natural Health Organization” or “” any more than I would trust McNeil or Equal themselves in this case.

  29. LintMan says:

    I like Splenda in stuff like tea or coffee, but don’t like it at all in soda, where it seems to have a funky taste for me. I was particularly bummed when Pepsi One, my favorite soda flavor, suddenly switched from Nutrasweet to Splenda and is rather lousy now. But then Coke Zero came out (with nutrasweet), and is fairly comparable to the original Pepsi One, so that’s my new favorite.

  30. ConsumptionJunkie says:

    Splenda’s argument is BS.

    If you buy it, then that is like saying that Capri-Sun is “all natural.”

  31. pronell says:

    See, now I’m of the opinion that you can’t say “made from” unless it contains the stuff. And you can’t say “we took this completely natural chlorine and shoved it in over here, so it’s still completely natural.” Everything is goddamned natural, because we’re a part of nature. You wanna tell me you’re putting ectoplasm in your soda, maybe you have an unnatural drink.

    But given the current public consciousness about the term ‘natural’, don’t tell me it’s natural if it came out of a chemical plant, you idiots.

    The there are the Dasani flavored waters. I don’t mind flavored waters. I accept that it’s water, with a flavor added. Dasani’s also have Splenda. Why? Because there’s NO FREAKING REGULATION THERE. I didn’t _WANT_ a bottle of sweet, clear, liquid. That’s why I bought WATER.

    As a result, I won’t buy Dasani _anything_ unless I have no choice for unadulterated liquid.

    I don’t give a crap about cancer, in the general sense. I care about claims made for marketing purposes that make the potential customer think about the product in terms of health claims.

    You wanna say “made from sugar,” then I want each and every one of your commercials to explain exactly HOW it’s made from sugar.

    But I’d settle for either “It’s made from sugar and chlorine, so it tastes kind of like sugar, and might have some long-term effects we haven’t bothered to test for” or shutting the hell up.

    Fucking christ, doesn’t it say enough that what they make comes out FAR TOO SWEET FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION?!

    If it’s sweeter than pure cane sugar, something ain’t right. High fructose corn syrup falls in that category, too. (Gee, can I pay for my sweetener in my taxes, so we don’t have to buy actual sugar from brown-skinned people? Can I, can I?)

    Meanwhile, I have a pitcher of water in my fridge with mint leaves floating in it.

  32. PackerX says:

    I’m with Splenda on this one. “Made from” says that the product has been derived from sugar, not that it still contains any. Asking them to put sugar on the ingredients list is like saying that “cow” should be added to the list of ingredients for milk.

    “Made from” and “made with” are two very different phrases.

  33. a_m_m_b says:

    @ alicetheowl
    (shudder)i quite agree.

    also whatever happened to moderating ones intake for those who don’t have medical issues with sugar? sheesh!