High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
What is High Fructose Corn Syrup?
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a sweetener used widely throughout the United States to sweeten various baked goods, sodas, yogurts, condiments, and more. HFCS is also called glucose-fructose syrup in the UK and high fructose maize syrup in most countries outside the United States. For several reasons, HFCS is the primary sweetener used in the United States. One of the most important factors in the use of HFCS is that it is substantially cheaper than cane sugar. This is due mainly to the fact that the United States places tariffs and import quotas on foreign sugar, while simultaneously subsidizing corn growers.
HFCS was first invented in 1957, but the process of making it cheaply and efficiently was not introduced until Dr. Yoshiyuki Takasaki introduced the process in Japan. Between 1975 and 1985 HFCS became the sweetener of choice in the United States.
The process of making HFCS is fairly complicated. It starts with milling corn into cornstarch. This cornstarch is then processed into a corn syrup. Corn syrup is almost entirely glucose, so producers add a series of three enzymes to the mixture to convert the glucose into fructose. There are also several filtration and purification processes that the HFCS goes through. This process yields HFCS 42, which is 42% fructose and 53% glucose. This type is commonly used to sweeten food products. It can then be further processed to make HFCS 90, which is 90% fructose and 10 % glucose. This type of HFCS is seldom used in foods. Lastly, to make HFCS 55, HFCS 42 and HFCS 90 are blended in the appropriate proportions. HFCS 55 is used primarily in sodas and drinks, and is the most similar to sugar with is 50% glucose and 50% fructose. Due to the possible health risks, no food grade hydrochloric acid is used during the process, and instead a similar result is accomplished using certain bacteria.
HFCS has several unique qualities that make it preferable to sugar in the food industry. First, HFCS is a liquid, which makes it easier to transport and blend. Additionally, HFCS leads to better browning in baked goods such as breads and rolls. It also gives products greater shelf life and aids in retaining moisture in baked goods and granola bars. Additionally, it is more stable in freezing and thawing than granulated sugar, making it ideal for ice creams. It also won’t crystalize like granulated sugar. Lastly, it leads to a smoother, more palatable texture in many products. For all of these reasons, in addition to being cheaper, HFCS has become extremely popular in the United States.
There is a large controversy as to the health effects of HFCS. Since the introduction of HFCS to the market forty years ago, the rates of diabetes and obesity have risen sharply in the United States. This leads some critics to blame HFCS for these spikes. However, the American Medical Association says that there is no greater impact on these problems than any other additional sweetener, and reminds people to eat in moderation. Additionally, the Food and Drug Administration classifies HFCS in the “generally recognized as safe” category. Ultimately, moderation of added sugars in the diet is more crucial than the type of sugar.