High fructose corn syrup
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS)—also called glucose-fructose in Canada, Isoglucose or Glucose-Fructose syrup and high fructose maize syrup in some countries—comprises any of a group of corn syrups that have undergone enzymatic processing to convert some of its glucose into fructose to produce a desired sweetness. Because of its low price compared to sugar, HFCS is the predominant sweetener used in processed foods and beverages in the United States. However, this trend does seem to be changing, as USDA data show that HFCS consumption since 2002 has actually decreased, while cane and beet sugar consumption has held steady or increased. It is commonly used in breads, cereals, breakfast bars, lunch meats, yogurts, soft drinks, soups, and condiments.
HFCS consists of 24% water and the rest sugars. The most widely used varieties of HFCS are: HFCS 55 (mostly used in soft drinks), approximately 55% fructose and 42% glucose; and HFCS 42 (used in beverages, processed foods, cereals, and baked goods), approximately 42% fructose and 53% glucose. HFCS-90, approximately 90% fructose and 10% glucose, is used in small quantities for specialty applications but primarily is used to blend with HFCS 42 to make HFCS 55 (see below).
- 1 Use as a replacement for sugar
- 2 Comparison to other sweeteners
- 3 Production
- 4 Sweetener consumption patterns
- 5 Health
- 6 Apiculture
- 7 Public relations
- 8 See also
- 9 Further reading
- 10 References
- 11 External links
Use as a replacement for sugar
In the United States, HFCS is among the sweeteners that have primarily replaced sucrose (table sugar) in the food industry. Factors for this include governmental production quotas of domestic sugar, subsidies of U.S. corn, and an import tariff on foreign sugar, all of which combine to raise the price of sucrose to levels above those of the rest of the world, making HFCS cheapest for many sweetener applications. The relative sweetness of HFCS 55 is comparable to table sugar (sucrose), a disaccharide of fructose and glucose, (HFCS 90 is sweeter than sucrose and HFCS 42 is less sweet than sucrose) while, being a liquid, HFCS is easier to blend.
Comparison to other sweeteners
|Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)|
|Energy||1,176 kJ (281 kcal)|
|Dietary fiber||0 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
Cane sugar and beet sugar are both relatively pure sucrose. While glucose and fructose (the two components of HFCS) are monosaccharides, sucrose is a disaccharide composed of glucose and fructose linked together with a relatively weak glycosidic bond. The fact that sucrose, glucose, and fructose are unique, distinct molecules complicates the comparison between cane and beet sugar (sucrose) and HFCS. A molecule of sucrose (with a chemical formula of C12H22O11) can be broken down into a molecule of glucose (C6H12O6) plus a molecule of fructose (also C6H12O6, an isomer of glucose), in a weakly acidic environment by a process called inversion. Sucrose is broken down during digestion into a mixture of 50% fructose and 50% glucose through hydrolysis by the enzyme sucrase. People with sucrase deficiency cannot digest (break down) sucrose and thus exhibit sucrose intolerance.
Honey is a mixture of different types of sugars, water, and small amounts of other compounds. Honey typically has a fructose/glucose ratio similar to HFCS 55 as well as containing some sucrose and other sugars. Like HFCS, honey contains water and has approximately 3 kcal per gram. Because of its similar sugar profile and lower price, HFCS has been used illegally to "stretch" honey. As a result, checks for adulteration of honey no longer test for higher-than-normal levels of sucrose, which HFCS does not contain, but instead test for small quantities of proteins that can be used to differentiate between HFCS and honey.
HFCS was first introduced by Richard O. Marshall and Earl R. Kooi in 1957. They were, however, unsuccessful in making it viable for mass production, primarily because the glucose-isomerizing activity they discovered required arsenate, which was highly toxic to humans. An industrially feasible glucose (xylose) isomerase, which did not require arsenate ion for its catalytic activity, was first discovered by Dr. Kei Yamanaka, Kagawa University, Japan, in 1961. The industrial production process was refined by Dr. Yoshiyuki Takasaki at the Agency of Industrial Science and Technology of Ministry of International Trade and Industry of Japan in 1965–1970.
HFCS is produced by milling corn (maize) to produce corn starch, processing that starch to yield corn syrup, which is almost entirely glucose, and then adding enzymes that convert some of the glucose into fructose. This resulting syrup contains approximately 42% fructose, and is aptly named HFCS 42. HFCS 42 can be further purified into a 90% fructose syrup, HFCS 90. To make HFCS 55, the HFCS 90 is mixed with HFCS 42 in the appropriate ratios to form the desired HFCS 55. The enzymes involved in converting corn starch into HFCS 42 are:
- alpha-amylase, which produces shorter chains of sugars called oligosaccharides from raw cornstarch.
- Glucoamylase, which breaks the oligosaccharides down even further to yield the simple sugar glucose.
- Xylose isomerase (aka glucose isomerase), which converts glucose to a mixture of about 42% fructose and 50–52% glucose with some other sugars mixed in.
Although both types of amylase are naturally produced by many animals (including humans), the most common method of commercial production is microbial fermentation. Xylose isomerase is not native to animals, and in standard glycolysis the glucose molecules are isomerized only after phosphorylation by glucose-6-phosphate isomerase to fructose 6-phosphate. Fructose molecules are phosphorylated by fructokinase and enter the glycolytic pathway at this point.
While inexpensive alpha-amylase and glucoamylase are added directly to the slurry and used only once, the more costly xylose-isomerase is packed into columns and the sugar mixture is then passed over it, allowing it to be used repeatedly until it loses its activity. This 42–43% fructose glucose mixture is then subjected to a liquid chromatography step, where the fructose is enriched to about 90%. The 90% fructose is then back-blended with 42% fructose to achieve a 55% fructose final product. Most manufacturers use carbon adsorption for impurity removal. Numerous filtration, ion-exchange, and evaporation steps are also part of the overall process.
The units of measurement for sucrose is degrees Brix (symbol °Bx). Brix is a measurement of the mass ratio of dissolved sucrose to water in a liquid. A 25 °Bx solution has 25 grams of sucrose per 100 grams of solution (25% w/w). Or, to put it another way, there are 25 grams of sucrose and 75 grams of water in the 100 grams of solution. The Brix measurement was introduced by Antoine Brix.
A more universal measurement of sugars, including HFCS, is called dry solids. Dry solids is defined as the mass ratio of dry sugars to the total weight of the sugar solution. Since Brix is based on the refractive index of light against a sucrose molecule, it is not accurate when measuring other sugars such as glucose, maltose, and fructose.
When an infrared Brix sensor is used, it measures the vibrational frequency of the sucrose molecules, giving a Brix degrees measurement. This will not be the same measurement as Brix degrees using a density or refractive index measurement, because it will specifically measure dissolved sugar concentration instead of all dissolved solids. When a refractometer is used, it is correct to report the result as "refractometric dried substance" (RDS). One might speak of a liquid as being 20 °Bx RDS. This is a measure of percent by weight of total dried solids and, although not technically the same as Brix degrees determined through an infrared method, renders an accurate measurement of sucrose content, since the majority of dried solids are in fact sucrose.
Recently, an isotopic method for quantifying sweeteners derived from corn and sugar cane was developed which permits measurement of corn syrup- and cane sugar-derived sweeteners in humans, thus allowing dietary assessment of the intake of these substances relative to total intake.
Sweetener consumption patterns
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.
A system of sugar tariffs and sugar quotas imposed in 1977 in the United States significantly increased the cost of imported sugar, and U.S. producers sought cheaper sources. HFCS derived from corn is more economical, because the domestic U.S. prices of sugar are twice the global price and the price of corn is kept low through government subsidies paid to growers.
HFCS became an attractive substitute and is preferred over cane sugar by the vast majority of American food and beverage manufacturers. Soft drink makers such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi use sugar in other nations, but switched to HFCS in the U.S. in 1984. Large corporations, such as Archer Daniels Midland, lobby for the continuation of government corn subsidies.
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. 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.
Consumption of HFCS in the U.S. has been slowly and steadily declining 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, versus 39.0 lb (17.7 kg) of refined cane and beet sugar.
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. Wide-scale replacement of sugar with HFCS has not occurred in the EU. 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. 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").
Health concerns have been raised about HFCS, which allege contribution to obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. 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.
The Corn Refiners Association disputes these claims and maintains that HFCS is comparable to table sugar. Studies by the American Medical Association state that "it appears unlikely that HFCS contributes more to obesity or other conditions than sucrose", but welcome further independent research on the subject. Further reviews in the clinical literature have disputed the links between HFCS and obesity, type 2 diabetes,[need quotation to verify] and metabolic syndrome, and some food and beverage industry experts have concluded that HFCS is no different from any other sugar in relationship to these diseases.
Although HFCS and sucrose have similar amounts of fructose, HFCS is the primary source of added sweeteners in the U.S. While the growth of fructose consumption in many developed nations coincides with the increase of prevalence of obesity, medical research to date is inconclusive, with contradictory conclusions presented by various research teams. The consensus supported by many health professionals and nutrition experts points at an overall excessive use of carbohydrates, particularly sugar-sweetened beverages, that lead to weight gain, due to a decreased effect on satiety.
While some high-fructose corn syrup advocates may claim the product contains all-natural ingredients, the processing sequence may involve the use of artificial and synthetic agents. This may also include corn syrup derived from GMO corn crops in US produced HFCS.
The use of food-grade hydrochloric acid 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." The food industry no longer uses conventional chemical hydrolysis for the manufacture of HFCS, but instead a multi-step bioprocess that uses bacterial enzymes.
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. 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.
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."
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.
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- 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."
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