HFCS: How Sweet It Is

By John S. White, Ph.D., Contributing Editor Comments
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Since its introduction, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) has been valued as a versatile, safe sweetener. But recently, it has been mischaracterized by some as being significantly and uniquely responsible for the ongoing obesity crisis. This mischaracterization has been fueled by fundamental misunderstandings about the name, composition, uses and metabolism of HFCS. Significant efforts are underway to correct these misunderstandings and provide consumers with science-based facts to aid them in making informed daily food choices.

The properties and functionality of HFCS have made it one of the most valued sweeteners by food formulation scientists in the United States, because of its desirable taste profile and versatility in a wide range of food systems. What’s more, evidence related to the metabolism of HFCS and other caloric sweeteners leads to the conclusion that there is nothing unique about the safety of HFCS in comparison with sucrose and other nutritive sweeteners.

Search for a better sweetener

HFCS was introduced to the food and beverage industry in the late 1970s, the result of a search by corn wet-milling companies for a liquid sweetener to compete with dry sucrose, matching sucrose in sweetness and providing superior functional qualities. The industry had produced a variety of cornstarches and glucose (otherwise known as dextrose) based corn syrups since the early 1900s and was seeking a new ingredient to provide entry into markets previously dominated by sugar, while still capitalizing on the industry’s considerable corn-processing and syrup-refining experience.

By blending fructose and glucose together in various ratios, the corn wet-milling industry developed two types of HFCS: HFCS-55 (55% fructose) and HFCS-42 (42% fructose). Glucose and a minor amount of glucose polymer (from incomplete cornstarch hydrolysis) make up the difference in both product types. Small quantities of HFCS-90 (90% fructose) and crystalline fructose (+99.5%) are also produced by the industry for specialty applications.

A valued sweetener

The liquid nature of HFCS provides manufacturing convenience and labor economies in comparison to dry sucrose, since it is readily pumped from delivery transport to holding tank. At time of use, it is pumped to the mixing tank, where dilution with water to final desired solids is rapidly accomplished with minimal labor or mixing/heating energy expenditure.


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