Course:FNH200/2011w Team01 HFCS

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High-fructose corn syrup is used in various food products, including popular soda beverages

Since its introduction to the food industry, high-fructose corn syrup has become a commonly used sweetener in many processed food products. Among other things, our article explains why it is a popular choice with the food industry. Our group was particularly interested in the controversial aspects of this product, as recent scholarship suggests that its use may be linked to the onset of obesity.


High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) became an alternative sweetener to sucrose in the 1960s. U.S. refineries originally started experimenting with the beginning building blocks of HFCS in the 1860s when they mixed liquefied cornstarch into a dextrose solution that was a form of glucose.[1] Chemists in the 1940s created the first true batches of HFCS by mixing additional enzymes into the dextrose solution. Commercial development of HFCS began in the 1960s, and practical application started in the late 1960s and early 1970s. HFCS became an alternative for cane and beet sugar, and its popularity as a sugar substitute increased significantly in the United States in the 1980s. The burden of adjusting to lower domestic demand for refined sugar was shifted from domestic producers to foreign quota holders by reducing the global quota.[2]

HFCS became a viable alternative to sucrose and other sugar forms because it is stable in acidic foods and beverages.[3] Initially, it was relatively unknown, and has the designation of being “generally recognized as safe and natural” by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. HFCS remained a noncontroversial product for approximately 30 years up until 2004.[4] HFCS is also considered by some to be an economically effective alternative to other forms of sugar because it is derived from corn, which is considered to be a renewable, dependable and ample agricultural material. This makes it immune from the price and availability extremes of sucrose.[3] Due to heavy subsidies and sugar import barriers, HFCS is about 20% cheaper than sugar. The United States produces 80% of HFCS globally, and U.S. consumers consumed around 58 pounds of HFCS per person on average.[1] According to Buzzanell's "Recent Trends", during the first half of the 1980s, "sugar lost 2 million tons of the beverage market to lower-cost high fructose corn syrup."[5]

Use in Products and General Properties

HFCS is also known as isoglucose, and is a combination of the monosaccharides fructose and glucose. It is used as a sweetener in many foods, including soda beverages, ice cream, cheeses, and meats. [6] Various blends of HFCS can be used to sweeten food. For example, soda and ice cream use a blend of 55% fructose and 45% glucose. Canned fruit, on the other hand, uses a blend of 42% fructose and 48% glucose with other ingredients. [6] HFCS can also be used in baked goods to increase moisture retention and browning. HFCS-42 is used in baked goods, and contains 42% fructose, 53% glucose, and 5% glucose polymers.[4]

Production of High-Fructose Corn Syrup

Schematic of high-fructose corn syrup production

The production of high fructose corn syrup is a process of catalytic reaction of enzymes. Three enzymes (α-amylase, glucoamylase and glucose isomerase) are involved in the production. The application of heat and chemicals such as caustic soda and/or hydrochloric acid is also needed to work with enzymes to obtain the products of HFCS. The procedure of production is as follows:[7]

  • Before further processing begins,corn starch needs to be derived first. Corn kenel is separated from corn grain by wet milling. Next, the corn starch from the endosperm is physically isolated from the rest of the corn grain.
  • Heat, caustic soda and/or hydrochloric acid and α-amylase are applied to hydrolyze corn starch to dextrins and oligosaccharides which are easier for further breakdown.
  • Dextrins and oligosaccharides are converted to simple sugar by enzyme glucoamylase (also known as amyloglucosidase). At this stage, the product of these two enzymes is glucose syrup (aka corn syrup).
  • Finally, the catalytic reaction of enzyme glucose isomerase converts glucose syrup to fructose syrup. The primary product is HFCS-90 (90% fructose and 10% glucose).
  • The products of HFCS-42 (42% fructose and 58% glucose) and HFCS-55 (55% fructose and 45% glucose) can be obtained from further processing of HFCS-90. Basically, manufacturers use glucose syrup to adjust the ratio of fructose and glucose in HFCS-90 to produce the desired products.

Advantages in Manufacturing

High-fructose corn syrup has various properties that make it a popular choice among soda manufacturers

High fructose corn syrup has been widely used since 1970. Statistics show that half of the sweeteners used in the United States include high-fructose corn syrup. Also, high fructose corn syrup contributes to 8% of the sweeteners used in the world. A large portion of high fructose corn syrup is used in the manufacturing of soft drinks and food, such as yogourt.[3]With such a high consumption of HFCS, what is the attraction behind the high fructose corn syrup?

What properties enable high fructose corn syrup to become so popular in manufacturing?


According to the sweetness index, both HFCS-90 and HFCS-55 are sweeter than sucrose. Using HFCS reduces the use of other sweeteners. This property of sweetness make HFCS attractive to food manufacturers. [8] Although HFCS-42 is less sweet, the mildness enables the food to retain its natural flavor. HFCS-42 is also widely used in many food productions such as yogurt, eggnog, flavoured milks, ice cream, and other frozen desserts.[7]


Fructose has better solubility than other sugars (table 1). Compared with sucrose, HFCS has the ability to maintain in liquid form even with temperature fluctuation. This also helps to retain the soft texture of food because HFCS resists crystallizing. Moreover, HFCS is easier to be transported in liquid form and used in soft drink formulations.[7]

Not all sweeteners are the same!

Table 1: Solubility of selected sugars at 50°C.Data from McWilliams (2008).

Sugar Grams of sugar dissolved in 100 ml of water
Fructose 86.9
Sucrose 72.2
Glucose 65.0
Maltose 58.3
Lactose 29.8


In the manufacturing of soft drinks, HFCS is heavily used. The property of sweetness enables HFCS to be a popular sweetener in manufacturing. However, HFCS can also work as a preservative because of its acidity. Using HFCS reduces the need of other preservatives and thus reduces the cost of manufacturing.[7]

Relative cheapness

The food industry began to replace can and beet sugar with HFCS after sugar prices quadrupled in the 1970s, and a few years later, soft-drink companies followed suit. The syrup's affordability in the United States has helped soda companies sell larger bottles and greatly expand consumption of the calorie-rich drinks.[6]Nowadays, the price of HFCS is still relatively lower than sucrose.

Links to Obesity

Support for the link between HFCS and Obesity

In the past ten years, HFCS has come into controversy because of a growing body of literature that suggests that it has adverse impacts on regulators of food intake and body weight. Several scientists and researchers have discovered a link between the increased widespread consumption of HFCS and increased obesity rates, suggesting that HFCS is a contributor towards global trends in obesity rates. [1] For example, according to Bray et al., in the United States the "consumption of HFCS increased > 1000% between 1970 and 1990 […] HFCS now represents > 40% of caloric sweeteners added to foods and beverages and is the primary caloric sweetener in soft drinks in the United States." [9] A study from the The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that "the top 20% of consumers of caloric sweeteners ingest 316 kcal from HFCS per day." They establish a link between this huge increase in the consumption of corn syrup and the "rapid increase in obesity," stating that this is only a "conservative estimate." [9] The study continues to state that “unlike glucose, fructose does not stimulate insulin secretion or enhance leptin production." It is suggested in other studies too that HFCS does not trigger appetite-suppressing signals in the body, unlike glucose. The theory remains unproven, but a growing body of literature has suggested the syrup may indeed counteract the satiation-hormone leptin. [1] This is due to insulin and leptin being "afferent signals in the regulation of food intake and body weight, suggesting that dietary fructose may contribute to increased energy intake and weight gain.”[9]

Arguments against the link between HFCS and Obesity

Although there are parallels between the increased consumption of HFCS and increased obesity rates, there are also increasing numbers of scientists and researchers who challenge the assumption that HFCS is linked to the world-wide increase in obesity rates.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that overall, age-adjusted obesity rates obtained from the Behavioural Risk Factor Surveillance System were 15.6%, 19.8%, and 23.7% for 1995, 2000, and 2005, respectively. While the American obesity crisis continues to worsen, statistics show that the per capita caloric intake from HFCS has been stagnant since 1998 and in decline since 2002. Thus, some believe that the association between HFCS and obesity is no longer valid, and that HFCS is not predictive of US obesity.[4] Furthermore, there is the misconception that HFCS is not only the dominant US sweetener, but the dominant world sweetener as well. Neither is true. On a global scale, sucrose is consumed nine times more than HFCS. In the States, more sucrose is consumed per capita than HFCS. [4] HFCS accounts for about a half of the nutritive sweetener used in the United States, but for only eight percent of the nutritive sweetener used worldwide; sucrose accounts for the rest. The sugar economy is firmly established in many countries and receives heavy government economic and trade protection from competing sweeteners and technologies.[3]

In addition, HFCS has the same sugars composition as other "benign" fructose-glucose sweeteners such as sucrose, honey, and fruit juice concentrates and dietary sources such as fruits and juices. Increased caloric intake since 1970 was not due to added sugars (including HFCS) but rather was due to increased consumption of all caloric nutrients, especially fats and flour and cereals. [10]

In conclusion, some believe that the adverse health impacts of HFCS have been exaggerated or misconstrued. Also, increased caloric intake since the 1970s was not only the result of the increased consumption of sugars and sweeteners, but the result of the increased consumption of high-calorie foods - such as fats, flours and cereals - in general. The links between HFCS consumption and obesity are no longer directly established, neither in the U.S. nor on a global scale. In the U.S., the per capita consumption of HFCS has declined while obesity rates continue to rise, while on a global scale, HFCS is a minor sweetener.[10]

Environmental Impact

High-fructose corn syrup tanker

Conventional farming practices use significant water resources, pesticides, and fertilizers, leading to widespread water pollution and nutrient-depleted soil.

Corn production has also become a major contributor to climate change. In The Omnivore's Dilemma, author Michael Pollan estimates that between one-quarter and one-third gallons (about 1.0 to 1.25 liters) of oil are needed per bushel of corn to create the pesticides, fertilizers and tractor gasoline, and to harvest, dry, and transport the corn. The U.S. high-fructose corn syrup industry used about 490 million bushels of corn last year, according to USDA.[1]

HFCS is used as a sucrose alternative by commercial beekeepers to feed honey bees to promote pollination. When the temperature is higher than 45°C, HFCS begins to form Hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) which is very toxic to honey bees. In addition, levulinic and formic acids, which are byproducts of HMF, are also toxic to bees. Toxicity is seen as dysentery-like symptoms in bees, which may lead to the colony collapse disorder of honey bees.[7]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 [1]Block, Ben. (2007). High-Fructose Corn Syrup. Life Cycle Studies, 22, 1. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "High-fructose corn syrup" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "High-fructose corn syrup" defined multiple times with different content
  2. [2] Skully, D. W. (1998). Auctioning Tariff Quotas for U.S. Sugar Imports. Economic Research Service. Retrieved March 1st, 2012, from
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 [3], White, J. S. (2008). Straight Talk About High-Fructose Corn Syrup: What it is and What it Ain't. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 88(6), 1716S-1721S. Retrieved, March 2, 2012, from Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "straight talk about high-fructose" defined multiple times with different content
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 [4] Angelopoulous, T., Foreyt, J., Melanson, & K., White, J. (2010). High-Fructose Corn syrup: Controversies and Common Sense. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 4, 515-518. doi:10.1177/1559827610378960. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "high-fructose corn" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "high-fructose corn" defined multiple times with different content
  5. 6.0 6.1 6.2 [6] High-Fructose Corn Syrup. (2009, May-June). World Watch, 22(3), 1. Retrieved from Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "World Watch" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "World Watch" defined multiple times with different content
  6. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 [7], Parker, K., Salas, M., Nwosu, V. C.(2010). High Fructose Corn Syrup: Production, Uses, and Public Health Concerns. Biotechnology and Molecular Biology Review, Vol. 5(5), pp. 71 - 78. Retrieved from Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "High fructose corn syrup: Production, uses and public health concerns" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "High fructose corn syrup: Production, uses and public health concerns" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "High fructose corn syrup: Production, uses and public health concerns" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "High fructose corn syrup: Production, uses and public health concerns" defined multiple times with different content
  7. [8], Judy Chan. FNH200/Lesson 02. Retrieved from http://
  8. 9.0 9.1 9.2 [9], Bray, G.A., Nielsen, S.J., & Popkin B.M. (2004). Consumption of High-Fructose Corn Syrup in Beverages May Play a Role in the Epidemic of Obesity. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 79(4), 537-543. Retrieved from
  9. 10.0 10.1 [10], Forshee, R. A., Storey, M. L., Allison, D.B., Glinsmann, W. H., Hein, G. L., Lineback, D. R., Miller, S. A., Nicklas, T. A., Weaver, G. A., & White, J. S. (2007). A Critical Examination of the Evidence Relating High Fructose Corn Syrup and Weight Gain. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 47 (6), 561-582. Retrieved from