Diet soda started out as a drink for diabetics but has grown into a big business.

Soda is a major industry and Americans spent $70 billion on soda in 2010.  Diet soda is a large part of those sales.  In fact, Diet Coke was the second most popular soda that same year, surpassing Pepsi.  It’s hard to imagine a time without our beloved no-calorie, no-sugar drinks.

While regular carbonated sodas and colas have been around since the late 1800’s, diet soda was a 1950’s innovation.  The Kirsch Bottling Company of Brooklyn was the first to produce a sugar-free ginger ale in 1952.  Brothers Hyman and Morris Kirsch invented the drink and called it No-Cal.  It was initially created for diabetic patients at the Jewish Sanitarium for Chronic Disease and only sold locally.  The next company to market diet soda was Royal Crown Cola, who created Diet Rite in 1958.  Next Dr. Pepper released a diet version of their beverage in 1962, and then the Coca-Cola joined the market in 1963 with Tab.

The first artificial sweeteners used in diet soda were cyclamates, which are 30 to 50 times sweeter than sugar.  Cyclamates were usually used in combination with saccharin, which was supposed to create a more pleasing taste.  Cyclamates were banned by the FDA in 1970 due to evidence that showed it caused cancer in lab rats.  Today most diet sodas are sweetened with aspartame.