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May 2011

Food for Thought

Corn Syrup vs. HFCS
By Lorinda

Food for Thought archive

A "corn-etery" ~ photo courtesy of Eric Crowley.


I have a seldom-used bottle of corn syrup lurking in my pantry, hiding behind the organic wheat flour and the raw nuts. Although I don't use it often, there are some recipes that would not be as good without it. In glazes, icings, or most items that are not brought to high temperatures, you may be able to substitute a simple sugar syrup or honey. For some candy making, however, the glucose in corn syrup is needed to prevent excessive crystallization. If you have ever eaten grainy fudge, you know that the sugar crystals in candy can affect its texture and appeal. While it is possible to make creamy fudge without corn syrup, I prefer to play it safe. Despite the fact that corn syrup can be made from genetically modified corn, I am okay with buying an occasional bottle of it. But if you prefer, you can purchase glucose syrup on the Internet.

In my defense, I discovered that light corn syrup is not the same as that villain High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). Here's what Karo has to say: "Corn syrup is a mildly sweet, concentrated solution of dextrose and other sugars derived from corn starch. It is naturally sweet. Corn syrup contains between 15% to 20% dextrose (glucose) and a mixture of various other types of sugar." HFCS, however, is glucose that is treated with enzymes to turn it into fructose, and then blended with corn syrup. It is 55% fructose, 45% glucose. To get an idea of how HFCS is made, I recommend watching the movie King Corn.

There is a great deal of controversy on the health effects of HFCS. The Corn Refiners Association wants us to believe there is no difference between their chemically altered, man-made product and sugar. They have spent a lot of money on ads to convince us that "sugar is sugar." For a fun spoof of their ads, go to YouTube.

After reading a multitude of articles on the subject, I strongly believe the truth lies with the groups that do not have a huge financial gain at stake. There are several studies that suggest that sugar is NOT sugar; that our brains respond differently to sucrose and fructose. At the risk of oversimplifying, sucrose satisfies . . . fructose does not. In fact, fructose may make you hungrier.

A Princeton study showed that rats with free access to HFCS gained a significant amount of weight compared to rats with free access to table sugar, even though their calorie intake was comparable. They had more belly fat, raised triglycerides, and obesity. In humans, these are known to be risk factors for heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. It also is believed to deposit fat in the liver.

According to Diabetes Health, High Fructose Corn Syrup:

  • Can lead to higher caloric intake.
  • Can lead to an increase in bodyweight.
  • Can fool your body into thinking it's hungry.
  • Can increase the amount of processed foods you eat, thereby decreasing your intake of nutrient-dense foods.
  • May increase insulin resistance and triglycerides.
  • There are a lot of reasons for the obesity crisis in our country, and it may seem like HFCS is taking the rap when poor eating habits, fast food, and inactivity are also factors. But the problem is: HFCS is added to almost everything you eat and drink! It's cheap, so manufacturers use it freely as a sweetener and a shelf stabilizer. Check your labels—it's in your bread, crackers, canned goods, and drinks.

    Because this sweetener is hidden in so many processed foods, it is unreasonable to expect people to consume it in "moderation," as some experts recommend. In 2007, the average person in the United States consumed 56 pounds of HFCS. A large portion of that was probably in soft drinks and juices.

    If you are not vigilant about checking labels, I guarantee you are consuming a lot more HFCS than you think. If that isn't enough to worry about, the corn they use for HFCS is often a GMO (genetically modified) food. I won't get into that subject right now, but believe me—it is something to avoid if possible.

    The last time I went shopping I found pancake syrup, ketchup, and children's juice pouches that had labels stating they were made without HFCS. This is hugely exciting. It means that once again consumer demand is starting to make a difference. Every dollar we spend casts a vote—and the manufacturers have to listen to us if they want to keep our business. Now that, my friends, is power!

    For more information

    A Sweet Problem

    Fructose Metabolism by the Brain Increases Food Intake and Obesity, Review Suggests

    High-Fructose Corn Syrup Fueling Obesity Epidemic, Doctors Say

    OHSU Study Adds to Corn Syrup, Obesity Link

    Chart: Obesity & High Fructose Corn Syrup


    King Corn
    Food, Inc.
    Food Matters


    Appetite for Profit, by Michele Simon
    Food Politics, by Marion Nestle



    Here is a decadent recipe; the perfect excuse for keeping a bottle of corn syrup in your kitchen! This was demonstrated and passed down to me more than 40 years ago by my aunt and is one of my all-time favorites. It just won a blue ribbon at our local Grange contest and is headed for the state competition in June.

    Peanut Brittle

    3 1/2 cups white sugar
    1 1/2 cups white Karo corn syrup
    2 cups water
    1 pound raw Spanish peanuts
    4 tablespoons salted butter (NOT margarine!)
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    1 tablespoon baking soda

    1. Before beginning, generously butter at least 3 cookie sheets or flat pans.
    2. Boil sugar, corn syrup, and water together, stirring occasionally, until mixture reaches 250 degrees on a candy thermometer.
    3. Add peanuts and butter. Continue to cook until mixture turns color (310 degrees), stirring constantly.
    4. Remove from stove and stir in vanilla and soda. Stir until most of the foam disappears. Pour onto cookie sheets. Spread as thinly as possible. (Hardens rapidly!) As it cools, pull the edges of brittle with buttered fingers, to stretch thin.


    Heirloom, home-grown corn comes in many varieties.


    Contact Lorinda at lorindamckinnon@gmail.com

    Lorinda resides in Eastern Washington, where she joyously combines her love of cooking and gardening. Baking is her passion, and licking the batter off the spoon after making a cake is her reward. When she's not in the kitchen, she's out in the garden pulling weeds and snacking on young peas. Enjoy Lorinda's blog, The Rowdy Baker.


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