High fructose corn syrup

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"HFCS" redirects here. It is not to be confused with HFCs.
Structural formulae of fructose (left) and glucose (right)

A high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)[alternative names 1] is corn syrup processed to convert some of its glucose into fructose. In North America, where subsidies and import tariffs have made it cheaper than sucrose (table sugar), it is often used in processed foods.[1]

HFCS is 24% water, the rest mainly fructose and glucose with 0–5% unprocessed glucose oligomers,[2] but also 0.3–1.1 grams/liter reactive degradation products, including 3-deoxyglucosone and other α-dicarbonyls, plus HMF (see below).[3][4] HFCS 55 (≈55% fructose if water were removed) is mostly used in soft drinks; HFCS 42 is used in beverages, processed foods, cereals, and baked goods.[5][6] HFCS-90 has some niche uses[7] but mainly mixed with HFCS 42 to make HFCS 55 (see below).

Use as a replacement for sugar[edit]

In the U.S., HFCS is among the sweeteners that mostly replaced sucrose (table sugar) in the food industry.[8] Factors include production quotas of domestic sugar, import tariff on foreign sugar, and subsidies of U.S. corn, raising the price of sucrose and lowering that of HFCS, making it cheapest for many sweetener applications.[9][10] The relative sweetness of HFCS 55 is comparable to sucrose,[11] (HFCS 90 is sweeter than sucrose and HFCS 42 is less sweet than sucrose) while, being a liquid, HFCS is easier to blend (although sometimes sucrose is used in liquid form).[12][13]

Adulteration of honey[edit]

Because of its superficially similar sugar profile and lower price, HFCS has been used illegally to "stretch" honey. Checks no longer test for higher-than-normal sucrose, which HFCS does not contain, but for proteins unique to corn (that HFCS is made from), or use differential scanning calorimetry.[14][15]

Comparison to other sweeteners[edit]

High-fructose corn syrup
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 1,176 kJ (281 kcal)
76 g
Dietary fiber 0 g
0 g
0 g
Riboflavin (B2)
0.019 mg
Niacin (B3)
0 mg
0.011 mg
Vitamin B6
0.024 mg
Folate (B9)
0 μg
Vitamin C
0 mg
Trace metals
6 mg
0.42 mg
2 mg
4 mg
0 mg
2 mg
0.22 mg
Other constituents
Water 24 g

Shown is for 100 g, roughly 5.25 tbsp.
Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database

Cane and beet sugar[edit]

Cane sugar and beet sugar are mostly sucrose, a disaccharide composed of glucose and fructose linked by a weak glycosidic bond, while glucose and fructose (the two components of HFCS) are monosaccharides. Sucrose, glucose, and fructose being unique, distinct molecules complicates the comparison between cane and beet sugar (sucrose) and HFCS. Sucrose can be split into glucose and fructose, in a weakly acidic environment or by the enzyme sucrase.[16] People with sucrase deficiency cannot digest sucrose and thus exhibit sucrose intolerance.[17]


A process for HFCS was first introduced by Richard O. Marshall and Earl R. Kooi in 1957, but needed toxic arsenate to work.[18] A glucose (xylose) isomerase that didn't need arsenate, was first discovered by Kei Yamanaka, Kagawa University, Japan, in 1961.[19][20] The process was refined by Yoshiyuki Takasaki at the Agency of Industrial Science and Technology of Ministry of International Trade and Industry of Japan in 1965–1970.

Milling corn (maize) produces corn starch; added alpha-amylase turns it to shorter sugar chains – oligosaccharides. Glucoamylase is mixed in and converts them to glucose; xylose isomerase is on a solid support due to its expense, it turns the sugars to ~50–52% glucose with some unconverted oligosaccharides, and 42% fructose (HFCS 42). Some is processed into HFCS 90 by liquid chromatography, then mixed with HFCS 42 to form HFCS 55. The enzymes are made by microbial fermentation.

Most manufacturers use activated carbon to remove non-sugars (in addition to usual filtration, ion-exchange, and evaporation steps). In these steps, sugars are variously degraded, forming eg reactive α-dicarbonyls (α-DCs) and HMF (see below).[4][21]

α-amylase and glucoamylase are made by humans and many animals, but xylose isomerase isn't. Usually an isomerase converts glucose after phosphorylation, to fructose 6-phosphate. Fructose is phosphorylated by fructokinase, then enters glycolysis.

Sweetener consumption patterns[edit]


Prior to the development of the worldwide sugar industry, dietary fructose was limited to only a few items. Milk, meats, and most vegetables, the staples of many early diets, have no fructose, and only 5–10% fructose by weight is found in fruits such as grapes, apples, and blueberries. Molasses and common dried fruits have a content of less than 10% fructose sugar. From 1970 to 2000 there was a 25% increase in "added sugars" in the U.S.[21]

Recently, an isotopic method was developed for assessment of intake of sweeteners derived from corn and sugar cane in humans, relative to total intake.[22]

United States[edit]

US sweetener consumption, 1966–2012, in dry pounds. Note: the line labeled "Total" indicates total corn sweeteners, not total sweetener consumption.[dubious ]

In the US, sugar tariffs and quotas keep imported sugar at up to twice the global price since 1797,[23][24] while subsidies to corn growers cheapen the primary ingredient in HFCS, corn. Industrial users looking for cheaper replacements rapidly adopted HFCS in the 1970s.[25][26]

HFCS is easier to handle than granulated sucrose, although some sucrose is transported as solution. Unlike sucrose, HFCS cannot be hydrolyzed, but the free fructose in HFCS may produce toxic HMF on storage in the warm; these differences are most prominent in acidic beverages.[13][27] Soft drink makers such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi use sugar in other nations, but switched to HFCS in the U.S. in 1984.[28] Large corporations, such as Archer Daniels Midland, lobby for the continuation of government corn subsidies.[29]

Other countries, including Mexico, typically use sugar in soft drinks. Some Americans seek out Mexican Coca-Cola in ethnic groceries because they prefer the taste compared to Coca-Cola in the U.S. which is made with HFCS.[30][31] Kosher for Passover Coca-Cola sold in the U.S. around the Jewish holiday also uses sucrose rather than HFCS and is also highly sought after by people who prefer the original taste.[32]

Consumption of HFCS in the U.S. has declined since it peaked at 37.5 lb (17.0 kg) per person in 1999. The average American consumed approximately 27.1 lb (12.3 kg) of HFCS in 2012,[33] versus 39.0 lb (17.7 kg) of refined cane and beet sugar.[34][35] "

European Union[edit]

In the European Union (EU), HFCS, known as isoglucose in sugar regime, is subject to a production quota. In 2005, this quota was set at 303,000 tons; in comparison, the EU produced an average of 18.6 million tons of sugar annually between 1999 and 2001.[36] Wide-scale replacement of sugar with HFCS has not occurred in the EU.[citation needed] For labeling purpose, syrup which is predominantly glucose, like HFCS 42, is called Glucose-Fructose Syrup (GFS), while syrup which is predominantly fructose, like HFCS 55, called Fructose-Glucose Syrup (FGS).


In Japan, HFCS accounts for one quarter of total sweetener consumption.[37] In the Japanese Agricultural Standard it is called 異性化糖 ("isomerized sugar"). If a syrup contains more than 50% glucose, it is called ブドウ糖果糖液糖 ("glucose fructose syrup"); if syrup contains 50% to 90% fructose, it is called 果糖ブドウ糖液糖 ("fructose glucose syrup"); and if syrup is more than 90% fructose, it is called 高果糖液糖 ("high fructose syrup").


α-dicarbonyls and other reactive compounds[edit]

While some HFCS advocates may claim it contains all-natural ingredients,[38] multiple toxic degradation products are created during processing; namely hydroxymethyl-furfural (HMF), and α-dicarbonyls (α-DCs). The seven major α-DCs are: glucosone, 1-deoxyglucosone, 3-deoxyglucosone, 3,4-dideoxyglucosone-3-ene, 3-deoxygalactosone, methylglyoxal (MG), and glyoxal. Total α-DCs ranged from 0.293 to 1.130 gram/liter HFCS. 3-Deoxyglucosone (3-DG) was the major α-DC with concentrations up to 0.730 gram/liter HFCS (see health effects of 3-DG for more info).[3][4] Other reactive carbonyls include glycolaldehyde (the precursor that reacts with O2 to produce glyoxal), erythrose (co-produced when glycolaldehyde is made) and glyceraldehyde (co-produced with methylglyoxal).[39] To compare, fruit juices contain a median amount of 27 milligram/liter 3-DG (the range is from negligible to 42 mg/l), beer median 34 mg/l (range 20 to 45 mg/l), cookies median 129 mg/kg (range negligible to 400 mg/kg ), and bread median 45 mg/kg (range negligible to 625 mg/kg).[40]

Obesity and related disorders[edit]

Health concerns have been raised about HFCS's contribution to obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes,[41] and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.[42] Critics of the extensive use of HFCS in food sweetening argue that the highly processed substance is more harmful to humans than regular sugar, contributing to weight gain by affecting normal appetite functions.[43]

The Corn Refiners Association disputes this and claims HFCS is comparable to table sugar.[44] Studies by the AMA state that "it appears unlikely that HFCS contributes more to obesity or other conditions than sucrose", but welcome further independent research.[45] However, fructose, in contrast to glucose, was shown to potently stimulate lipogenesis (creation of fatty acids, for conversion to fat).[46] A review in Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism concluded: 'dietary fructose might promote the development of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, which in and of itself, can result in hepatic insulin resistance, a key feature of type 2 diabetes mellitus.'[46] A single-author review[47] has disputed the links between HFCS and obesity and metabolic syndrome, and some[who?] food and beverage industry experts have concluded that HFCS is no different from any other sugar in relationship to these diseases. HFCS has been classified as a "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration since 1976.[48]

Although HFCS and sucrose have similar amounts of fructose, sucrose releases its fructose after a hydrolysis step, creating slower fructose release. HFCS is the primary source of added sweeteners in the U.S. Many health professionals and nutrition experts agree that excessive use of all carbohydrates, particularly sugar-sweetened beverages, leads to weight gain, due to a decreased effect on satiety;[49] this does not imply that fructose is no more harmful than other sweeteners.

The HFCS processing sequence may involve the use of artificial and synthetic agents.[50] This may also include corn syrup derived from GMO corn crops in US produced HFCS.[50]

Mercury contamination[edit]

The use of industrial-grade sodium hydroxide in the processing of corn syrup has given rise to speculations that HFCS can be a source of inorganic mercury, depending on how it is manufactured. A 2009 study found that out of 20 samples of HFCS collected from three separate manufacturers, 11 did not contain detectable levels of mercury (detection limit 0.005 μg mercury/g) while 9 of 20 samples did contain mercury. Eight of the 9 samples containing mercury had levels of mercury ranging from 0.065 μg to 0.570 μg mercury/g HFCS. The samples of HFCS that did not contain mercury "were likely manufactured using caustic soda produced by a membrane chlor-alkali plant which does not use mercury in its manufacturing process."[51][52][53][54] The food industry no longer uses conventional chemical hydrolysis for the manufacture of HFCS, but instead a multi-step bioprocess that uses bacterial enzymes.[citation needed]


In apiculture in the United States, HFCS has become a sucrose replacement for honey bees. In 2009, a study by Leblanc et al. found that at temperatures above 45 °C (113 °F) HFCS rapidly forms hydroxymethylfurfural, which is toxic to the honey bees being fed HFCS.[55] In 2012, a study by Chensheng Lu et al. found symptoms of colony collapse disorder (CCD) in beehives fed HFCS that the researchers laced with levels of a pesticide hypothesized to have been present in HFCS feed since 2006.[56]

A 2013 study by Wenfu Mao and colleagues from the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign report that "constituents found in honey, including p-coumaric acid, pinocembrin, and pinobanksin 5-methyl ether, specifically induce detoxification genes." They found that adding p-coumaric acid to a diet of sucrose increases mid-gut metabolism of coumaphos, a widely used in-hive pesticide used for controlling Varroa destructor mites, by approximately 60%. Since p-coumaric acid is a major component of pollen, it is part of the natural diet of honey bees and may help regulate immune and detoxification processes. They conclude: "Using honey substitutes, including HFCS, may thus compromise the ability of honey bees to cope with pesticides and pathogens and contribute to colony losses."[57][58]

Public relations[edit]

There are various public relations issues with HFCS, including with its labeling as "natural", with its advertising, with companies that have moved back to sugar, and a proposed name change to "corn sugar". In 2010 the Corn Refiners Association applied to allow HFCS to be renamed "corn sugar", but were rejected by the United States Food and Drug Administration in 2012.[59]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

Litchfield, Ruth (2008). High Fructose Corn Syrup—How sweet it is. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. Retrieved 2013-03-01. 

Alternative names[edit]

  1. ^ also called glucose-fructose in Canada[60] and isoglucose, glucose-fructose syrup or fructose-glucose syrup in Europe[61][62][63][64]


  1. ^ Warshaw, Hope. "High-fructose corn syrup vs. sugar". The Washington Post. Retrieved 5 June 2014. 
  2. ^ Rizkalla, S. W. (2010). "Health implications of fructose consumption: A review of recent data". Nutrition & Metabolism 7: 82. doi:10.1186/1743-7075-7-82. PMC 2991323. PMID 21050460.  edit
  3. ^ a b Gensberger Sabrina, Mittelmaier Stefan, Glomb Marcus A, Pitschetsrieder Monika (July 2012). "Identification and quantification of six major α-dicarbonyl process contaminants in high-fructose corn syrup". Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry 403 (10): 2923–2931. 
  4. ^ a b c Lo CY, Li SM, Wang Y, Tan D, Pan MH, Sang SM, Ho CT (April 2008). "Reactive dicarbonyl compounds and 5-(hydroxymethyl)-2-furfural in carbonated beverages containing high fructose corn syrup". Food Chemistry 107 (3). doi:10.1016/j.foodchem.2007.09.028. 
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  6. ^ "ERS/USDA Briefing Room – Sugar and Sweeteners: Background". United States Department of Agriculture. August 6, 2009. Archived from the original on 6 March 2014. Retrieved November 18, 2011. 
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  19. ^ Yamanaka K (1966). "[104] d-Xylose isomerase". Methods in Enzymology 9: 588–593. doi:10.1016/0076-6879(66)09118-3. 
  20. ^ Chen W-P (1980). "[104] Glucose Isomerase (a Review)". Process Biochemistry. June/July: 30–41. 
  21. ^ a b Gensberger Sabrina, Mittelmaier Stefan, Glomb Marcus A, Pitschetsrieder Monika (July 2012). "Identification and quantification of six major α-dicarbonyl process contaminants in high-fructose corn syrup". Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry 403 (10): 2923–2931. 
  22. ^ Jahren AH, Saudek C, Yeung EH, Kao WH, Kraft RA, Caballero B (December 2006). "An isotopic method for quantifying sweeteners derived from corn and sugar cane" (PDF). The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 84 (6): 1380–1384. PMID 17158420. 
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  30. ^ Louise Chu,Associated Press (2004-11-09). "Is Mexican Coke the real thing?". The San Diego Union-Tribune. 
  31. ^ "Mexican Coke a hit in U.S.". The Seattle Times. 
  32. ^ Dixon, Duffie (April 9, 2009). "Kosher Coke 'flying out of the store'". USA Today. Retrieved May 4, 2010. 
  33. ^ "table51 – Refined cane and beet sugar: estimated number of per capita calories consumed daily, by calendar year". Economic Research Service. Retrieved 2013-07-19. 
  34. ^ "table50 – U.S. per capita caloric sweeteners estimated deliveries for domestic food and beverage use, by calendar year". Economic Research Service. Retrieved 2013-07-19. 
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  37. ^ (Japanese)1.需給関係資料(1) 砂糖及び異性化糖の需給総括表
  38. ^ Salberg, Amy M (June 2013). "“All Natural” High-Fructose Corn Syrup???". RealFoodLaw.com. 
  39. ^ Wang, Yu (January 2009). Roles of Reactive Carbonyl Species in Health and Flavor Generation. New Brunswick Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. 
  40. ^ Degen, J.; Hellwig, M.; Henle, T. (2012). "1,2-Dicarbonyl Compounds in Commonly Consumed Foods". Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 60 (28): 7071. doi:10.1021/jf301306g.  edit
  41. ^ Chan, Amanda L. (2012-11-27). "Is There A Link Between High Fructose Corn Syrup And Diabetes Rates?". Huffington Post. 
  42. ^ Bocarsly, M. E. "High-fructose Corn Syrup Causes Characteristics of Obesity in Rats: Increased Body Weight, Body Fat and Triglyceride Levels." NIH.gov. National Institutes of Health, Nov. 2010. Web. 16 June 2013
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  46. ^ a b Samuel VT (February 2011). "Fructose induced lipogenesis: from sugar to fat to insulin resistance". Trends Endocrinol. Metab. 22 (2): 60–5. doi:10.1016/j.tem.2010.10.003. PMID 21067942. 
  47. ^ White JS (December 2008). "Straight talk about high-fructose corn syrup: what it is and what it ain't". Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 88 (6): 1716S–1721S. doi:10.3945/ajcn.2008.25825B. PMID 19064536. Retrieved 2011-12-09. 
  48. ^ "Database of Select Committee on GRAS Substances (SCOGS) Reviews". Accessdata.fda.gov. 2006-10-31. Retrieved 2010-11-06. 
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  50. ^ a b Staff writers (28 October 2008). "The whole truth about high-fructose corn syrup". Consumer Reports. Retrieved 3 August 2013. 
  51. ^ Dufault R, LeBlanc B, Schnoll R, Cornett C, Schweitzer L, Wallinga D, Hightower J, Patrick L, Lukiw WJ (2009). "Mercury from chlor-alkali plants: Measured concentrations in food product sugar". Environmental Health 8: 2. doi:10.1186/1476-069X-8-2. PMC 2637263. PMID 19171026. 
  52. ^ Not So Sweet: Missing Mercury and High Fructose Corn Syrup, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
  53. ^ WashPost: Study Finds HFCS Contains Mercury Jan. 2009
  54. ^ CBS News Investigates HFCS Oct. 2008
  55. ^ LeBlanc BW, Eggleston G, Sammataro D, Cornett C, Dufault R, Deeby T, St Cyr E (26 August 2009). "Formation of Hydroxymethylfurfural in Domestic High-Fructose Corn Syrup and Its Toxicity to the Honey Bee (Apis mellifera)". Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 57 (16): 7369–7376. doi:10.1021/jf9014526. PMID 19645504. 
  56. ^ Lu, Chensheng; Warchol, Kenneth; Callahan, Richard A. (March 2012). "In situ replication of honey bee colony collapse disorder" (PDF). Bulletin of Insectology 65 (13). ISSN 1721-8861. 
  57. ^ Maoa, Wenfu; Schulerb, Mary A.; Berenbaum, May R. (29 April 2013). "Honey constituents up-regulate detoxification and immunity genes in the western honey bee Apis mellifera". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA. Published online before print. Bibcode:2013PNAS..110.8842M. doi:10.1073/pnas.1303884110. PMC 3670375. PMID 23630255. Retrieved 2 May 2013. We determined that constituents found in honey, including p-coumaric acid, pinocembrin, and pinobanksin 5-methyl ether, specifically induce detoxification genes. These inducers are primarily found not in nectar but in pollen in the case of p-coumaric acid (a monomer of sporopollenin, the principal constituent of pollen cell walls) and propolis, a resinous material gathered and processed by bees to line wax cells. RNA-seq analysis (massively parallel RNA sequencing) revealed that p-coumaric acid specifically up-regulates all classes of detoxification genes as well as select antimicrobial peptide genes. This up-regulation has functional significance in that that adding p-coumaric acid to a diet of sucrose increases midgut metabolism of coumaphos, a widely used in-hive acaricide, by ∼60%. As a major component of pollen grains, p-coumaric acid is ubiquitous in the natural diet of honey bees and may function as a nutraceutical regulating immune and detoxification processes. The widespread apicultural use of honey substitutes, including high-fructose corn syrup, may thus compromise the ability of honey bees to cope with pesticides and pathogens and contribute to colony losses. (From the abstract.) 
  58. ^ Yirka, Bob (30 April 2013). "Researchers find high-fructose corn syrup may be tied to worldwide collapse of bee colonies". Phys.org. Retrieved 2 May 2013. A team of entomologists from the University of Illinois has found a possible link between the practice of feeding commercial honeybees high-fructose corn syrup and the collapse of honeybee colonies around the world. ... Since approximately 2006, groups that manage commercial honeybee colonies have been reporting what has become known as colony collapse disorder — whole colonies of bees simply died, of no apparent cause. As time has passed, the disorder has been reported at sites all across the world, even as scientists have been racing to find the cause, and a possible cure. To date, most evidence has implicated pesticides used to kill other insects such as mites. In this new effort, the researchers have found evidence to suggest the real culprit might be high-fructose corn syrup, which beekeepers have been feeding bees as their natural staple, honey, has been taken away from them. ... The researchers aren't suggesting that high-fructose corn syrup is itself toxic to bees, instead, they say their findings indicate that by eating the replacement food instead of honey, the bees are not being exposed to other chemicals that help the bees fight off toxins, such as those found in pesticides. 
  59. ^ FDA rejects industry bid to change name of high fructose corn syrup to "corn sugar"
  60. ^ Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada: The Canadian Soft Drink Industry "Glucose/fructose is a generic term for high fructose corn syrup or HFCS". Retrieved November 5, 2009.
  61. ^ European Starch Association. "Factsheet on Glucose Fructose Syrups and Isoglucose". 
  62. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions: What is Glucose-Fructose Syrup?". European Food Information Council (EUFIC). Retrieved 2 April 2013. 
  63. ^ Glucose fructose syrup: the crack of sweeteners Netmums
  64. ^ A reference for the footnote.

External links[edit]