High fructose corn syrup, abbreviated as HFCS, and also known by several other names viz. glucose/fructose in Canada, glucose fructose syrup in UK, and high fructose maize syrup in other countries, is a kind of sweetener, produced by way of enzymatic processing of corn syrup, in which the glucose present in corn syrup is converted into fructose, so as to obtain the required sweetness. This syrup is one of the essential ingredients in most of the foods and beverages in the U.S. Further, it also forms a vital ingredient of several processed foods in the country. Most of the U.S. breads, meats, breakfast bars, cereals, soups, yogurts, and condiments make use of HFCS as a sweetening agent.
Glucose fructose was initially introduced by Earl R. Kooi and Richard O. Marshall in the year 1957; however, they were unable to carry out mass production of the sweetener. The product was brought in the consumer market only in 1965-1970, by Dr. Y. Takasaki at the Agency of Industrial Science and Technology of Ministry of International Trade and Industry of Japan. Since 1975, the product became one of the vital sweetening ingredients in various soft drinks and processed foods in the United States.
Various Forms of HFCS
High fructose corn syrup is mainly available in three different forms, as mentioned below:
- HFCS 42- it consists of 53% glucose and 42% fructose. It forms an essential sweetening agent in processed foods, baked goods, cereals, and processed foods.
- HFCS 55- this variety of the syrup is enriched with 42% glucose and 55% fructose, and is widely used as a sweetener in soft drinks.
- HFCS-90- it contains 10% glucose and 90% fructose. This variety of the syrup is primarily blended with HFCS 42, in order to make HFCS 55.
The production of high fructose corn syrup is carried out in several steps viz. a) initially corn is milled for production of corn starch, b) the corn starch is then processed to produce corn syrup, which mostly consists of glucose, and c) lastly, enzymes are added, so as to convert some part of glucose to fructose. The resultant corn syrup is enriched with 42% fructose, with this variety known as HFCS 42. At times, 43 % fructose is purified to 90%, with the resultant syrup known as HFCS 90. When both HFCS 90 and HFCS 42 are combined together, the end product is HFCS 55.
HFCS forms a vital sweetening agent in U.S. which has replaced sucrose. The price of table sugar (sucrose) is on the higher side because of certain factors viz.
a) import tariff charged on foreign sugar
b) subsidies given on U.S. corn
c) quotas on domestically produced sugar by the government
All these factors resulted in making high fructose corn syrup an economical alternative to table sugar for most of the sweetener applications.
There have been certain contradictions with respect to safety of the HFCS for consumption purposes. A few studies conducted in regard to HFCS say that the ingredient is harmful for human consumption, as it poses risk of being affected by diabetes and obesity due to high processing activity carried out to produce the syrup. However, these claims of the critics have been nullified by the American Medical Association saying that it is unlikely for HFCS to contribute more to diabetes or obesity when compared to sucrose. Further, the product has been considered to be safe for consumption even by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
High Fructose Corn Syrup Benefits
High fructose corn syrup often forms a vital sweetener of choice because of the following consumer related benefits:
- Flavor enhancement- HFCS helps in enhancing the flavor of dairy products, bakery fillings, and beverages, in which it is used as a sweetening ingredient.
- Freshness- HFCS has high moisture content, and hence restricts the microbial spoilage of the food product in which it used, thereby extending its shelf life and freshness. Further, firmness of the canned food product is protected, thus enabling the food to taste fresh.
- Sweetness- the intensity of sweetness provided by HFCS is equal to that provided by sugar, where HFCS can be used as a replacement for sugar in 1:1 ratio.
- Browning- being a “reducing sugar”, HFCS helps in giving superior flavor and browning to the baked goods like cakes, breads, dinner rolls, breakfast cereals, and cookies.
- Soft Texture- the moist and soft texture of snack bars, cookies, and baked food products is attained due to presence of HFCS.
- Stability- the quality of the food product, containing HFCS as the sweetening agent, does not get deteriorated even if it is stored for a long period of time in fluctuating temperatures.
- Fermentation ability- around 96% of sugars in HFCS are fermentable, which is one of the important features of bread baking process. Yeast, which is one the essential ingredients in bread, prefers glucose for fermentation process, hence making HFCS to be an economical alternative to sucrose.
There are a few drawbacks associated with HFCS, due to which it is suggested to consume the products enriched with syrup in limited amount only. The drawbacks have been discussed as under:
- Excessive consumption of the products containing HFCS can result in higher intake of calories.
- It may also result in increased body weight, if consumed in excess.
- The frequency of hunger cramps may increase due to increased intake of food products enriched with high fructose corn syrup.