In the early 1980s, Equal and its European counterpart, Canderel, were the first aspartame-based sweeteners to be sold to the public. Up to that point, there was only one artificial table sweetener available, which was saccharin.
Equal is sold variously as a bottled powder ("Equal Spoonful"), in blue individual-serve sachets or packets, and as a dissolving tablet for use in beverages such as tea and coffee. An Equal sachet contains dextrose, aspartame (1.7%), acesulfame potassium (1.2%), starch, silicon dioxide (an anti-caking agent), maltodextrin, and unspecified flavouring. (Source: Equal sachet made in Argentina for sale by Merisant Australia Pty Ltd, January 2007). Equal tablets may also contain lactose.
Despite ongoing controversy as to whether aspartame is safe or harmful, aspartame-based products have gained regulatory approvals permitting sale in more than 100 countries. Merisant's NutraSweet company states that aspartame is now used in over 5,000 products and consumed by some 250 million people worldwide. These include The Coca-Cola Company and Pepsico.