Molecule of deceit – raspberry ketone

What does it look like?

The crystal structure of the raspberry ketone molecule, drawn with VESTA.

The crystal structure of the raspberry ketone molecule, drawn with VESTA.

What is it?

This small molecule packs a lot of flavour.  Raspberry ketone is one of the most expensive food additives currently about, used to add that raspberry fruity-ness to all sorts of things.  Part of the reason that it’s so expensive is because there’s actually very little of it in nature (it doesn’t take much raspberry ketone to make your raspberry taste good!).  But it can be manufactured synthetically much cheaper – and probably the reason that there’s so many raspberry flavoured things about.  This means that knowing the crystal structure is very important, as it can be used to check that you have synthesised the right molecule to add to your ice-cream!

The reason it’s a deceitful molecule is that recently it’s been marketed as a weight-loss supplement, but there is no clinical evidence that it does help humans loose weight.  The claims come from a study that showed some effects in rats. In the small doses used for flavour this molecule has little effect on our bodies, but the concerning thing is the companies suggesting people take large does for weight loss – we just don’t understand the effect these would have on our bodies. 

Where did the structure come from?

The crystal structure of the raspberry ketone molecule was reported by Wang in 2011, in Acta Crystallographia E. The structure is #2230481 in the Crystallography Open Database.

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