High fructose corn syrup

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

High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) (also called glucose-fructose,[1] isoglucose and glucose-fructose syrup[2][3]) is a sweetener made from corn starch that has been processed by glucose isomerase to convert some of its glucose into fructose. HFCS was first marketed in the early 1970s by the Clinton Corn Processing Company, together with the Japanese research institute where the enzyme was discovered.

As a sweetener, HFCS is often compared to granulated sugar. Advantages of HFCS over granulated sugar include being easier to handle, and being less expensive in some countries. However, there is also widespread debate concerning whether HFCS presents greater health risks than other sweeteners.[4] Use of HFCS peaked in the late 1990s; demand decreased due to public concern about a possible link between HFCS and metabolic diseases like obesity and diabetes.[5][6][7]

Apart from comparisons between HFCS and table sugar, there is strong scientific consensus that the over-consumption added sugar, including HFCS, is a major health problem.[8][9] Consuming added sugars, especially in the form of soft drinks, is strongly linked to obesity.[10] The World Health Organization has recommended that people limit their consumption of added sugars to 10% of calories, but experts say that typical consumption of empty calories in the United States is nearly twice that level.[10]



In the U.S., HFCS is among the sweeteners that mostly replaced sucrose (table sugar) in the food industry.[11] 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.[12][13] The relative sweetness of HFCS 55, used most commonly in soft drinks, is comparable to sucrose.[14]

Because of its superficially similar sugar profile and lower price, HFCS has been used illegally to "stretch" honey. Assays to detect adulteration with HFCA use differential scanning calorimetry and other advanced testing methods.[15][16]


In apiculture in the United States, HFCS became a sucrose replacement for honey bees starting in the late 1970s. When HFCS is heated to about 45 degrees C, hydroxymethylfurfural can form from the breakdown of fructose, and is toxic to bees. HFCS has been investigated as a possible source of colony collapse disorder.[17]



In the contemporary process, corn (maize) is milled to produce corn starch and an "acid-enzyme" process is used in which the corn starch solution is acidified to begin breaking up the existing carbohydrates, and then enzymes are added to further metabolize the starch and convert the resulting sugars to fructose.[18]:808–813 The first enzyme added is alpha-amylase which breaks the long chains down into shorter sugar chains – oligosaccharides. Glucoamylase is mixed in and converts them to glucose; the resulting solution is filtered to remove protein, then using activated carbon, and then demineralized using Ion-exchange resins. The purified solution is then run over immobilized xylose isomerase, which turns the sugars to ~50–52% glucose with some unconverted oligosaccharides, and 42% fructose (HFCS 42), and again demineralized and again purified using activated carbon. Some is processed into HFCS 90 by liquid chromatography, then mixed with HFCS 42 to form HFCS 55. The enzymes used in the process are made by microbial fermentation.[18]:808–813[19]:20–22

Composition and varieties[edit]

HFCS is 24% water, the rest mainly fructose and glucose with 0–5% unprocessed glucose oligomers.[5] There are several varieties of HFCS, these are numbered by the percentage of fructose they contain:

  • HFCS 42 is used in beverages, processed foods, cereals, and baked goods.[20]
  • HFCS 55 (≈55% fructose if water were removed) is mostly used in soft drinks;
  • HFCS-90 has some niche uses[21] but mainly mixed with HFCS 42 to make HFCS 55.


Commercial production of corn syrup began in 1864.[19]:17 In the late 1950s scientists at Clinton Corn Processing Company in Iowa tried to turn glucose from corn starch into fructose, but the process was not scalable.[19]:17[22] In 1965-1970 Yoshiyuki Takasaki, at the Japanese National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) developed a heat-stable Xylose isomerase enzyme from yeast. In 1967, the Clinton Corn Processing Company of Clinton, Iowa obtained an exclusive license to a manufacture glucose isomerase derived from Streptomyces bacteria, and began shipping an early version of HCFS in February 1967.[19]:140

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.[23] After being classified as "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1976,[24] HFCS began to replace sucrose as the main sweetener of soft drinks in the United States. At the same time, rates of obesity rose. That correlation, in combination with laboratory research and epidemiological studies that suggested a link between consuming large amounts of fructose and changes to various proxy health measures including elevated blood triglycerides, size and type of low-density lipoproteins, uric acid levels, and weight, raised concerns about health effects of HFCS itself.[5]

United States[edit]

Consumption of sugar and corn-based sweeteners in the United States from 1966 to 2013, in dry-basis pounds per capita.

In the US, sugar tariffs and quotas keep imported sugar at up to twice the global price since 1797,[25][26] while subsidies to corn growers cheapen the primary ingredient in HFCS, corn. Industrial users looking for cheaper replacements rapidly adopted HFCS in the 1970s.[27][28]

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 Hydroxymethylfurfural when stored at high temperatures; these differences are most prominent in acidic beverages.[29] Soft drink makers such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi use sugar in other nations, but switched to HFCS in the U.S. in 1984.[30] Large corporations, such as Archer Daniels Midland, lobby for the continuation of government corn subsidies.[31]

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.[32][33] 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.[34]

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,[35] versus 39.0 lb (17.7 kg) of refined cane and beet sugar.[36][37]

In the United States, the Corn Refiners Association has attempted to counter negative public perceptions by marketing campaigns describing HFCS as "natural" and by attempting to change the name of the product to "corn sugar," which the FDA rejected.

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.[38]


In Japan, HFCS is manufactured mostly from imported US corn and the output is regulated by the government. For the period from 2007 to 2012 HFCS had a 27-30% share of the Japanese sweetener market.[39]:21


Health concerns have been raised about a relationship between HFCS and metabolic disorders, and with regard to manufacturing contaminants.

Obesity and metabolic disorders[edit]

Sugars became a health concern among the American public in the early 1970s with the publication of John Yudkin’s book, Pure, White and Deadly, which claimed that simple sugars, an increasingly large part of the Western diet, were dangerous.[19]:18 In the 1980s and 1990s Gerald Reaven and Sheldon Reiser of the USDA published papers discussing the dangers of dietary fructose from consumption of sucrose and of HFCS, especially with regard to heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.[19]:18 These concerns came to the public's attention through media attention to a 2004 commentary in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that suggested that the altered metabolism of fructose when compared to glucose may be a factor in increasing obesity rates since, as compared to glucose, fructose may be more readily converted to fat and the sugar causes less of a rise in insulin and leptin, both of which increase feelings of satiety. Fructose, in contrast to glucose, was shown to potently stimulate lipogenesis (creation of fatty acids, for conversion to fat).[19]:18[40][41] In subsequent interviews, two of the study's authors stated the article was distorted to place emphasis solely on HFCS when the actual issue was the overconsumption of any type of sugar.[42][43] While fructose absorption and modification by the intestines and liver does differ from glucose initially, the majority of the fructose molecules are converted to glucose or metabolized into byproducts identical to those produced by glucose metabolism. Consumption of moderate amounts of fructose has also been linked to positive outcomes, including reducing appetite if consumed before a meal, lower blood sugar increases compared to glucose, and (again compared to glucose) delaying exhaustion if consumed during exercise.[5]

In 2007 an expert panel assembled by the University of Maryland's Center for Food, Nutrition and Agriculture Policy reviewed the links between HFCS and obesity and concluded there was no ecological validity in the association between rising body mass indexes (a measure of obesity) and the consumption of HFCS. The panel stated that since the ratio of fructose to glucose had not changed substantially in the United States since the 1960s when HFCS was introduced, the changes in obesity rates were probably not due to HFCS specifically but rather a greater consumption of calories overall, and recommended further research on the topic.[44] In 2009 the American Medical Association published a review article on HFCS and concluded that based on the science available at the time it appeared unlikely that HFCS contributed more to obesity or other health conditions than sucrose, and there was insufficient evidence to suggest warning about or restricting use of HFCS or other fructose-containing sweeteners in foods. The review did report that studies found direct associations between high intakes of fructose and adverse health outcomes, including obesity and the metabolic syndrome.[6]

Epidemiological research has suggested that the increase in metabolic disorders like obesity and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, is linked to increased consumption of sugars and/or calories in general, and not due to any special effect of HFCS.[5][45][46] A 2012 review found that fructose did not appear to cause weight gain when it replaced other carbohydrates in diets with similar calories.[47] High fructose consumption has been linked to high levels of uric acid in the blood, though this is only thought to be a concern for patients with gout.[5]

Recent studies have suggested that the short term effects of HFCS are minimal, however the intergeneration effects of HFCS consumption during pregnancy on the offspring may be of greater consequence.[48] Early evidence shows that female offspring weight at birth is reduced compared to that of males and that plasma NEFA concentrations are reduced independent of offspring sex.[48]

Numerous agencies in the United States recommend reducing the consumption of all sugars, including HFCS, without singling it out as presenting extra concerns. The Mayo Clinic cites the American Heart Association's recommendation that women limit the added sugar in their diet to 100 calories a day (~6 teaspoons) and that men limit it to 150 calories a day (~9 teaspoons), noting that there is not enough evidence to support HFCS having more adverse health effects than excess consumption of any other type of sugar.[49][50] The United States departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services recommendations for a healthy diet state that consumption of all types of added sugars be reduced.[51]:p.27

People with fructose malabsorption should avoid foods containing HFCS.[52]

Manufacturing contaminants[edit]

HFCS contains reactive dicarbonyl compounds that are created during the processing steps. These dicarbonyl compounds can in turn create advanced glycation end-products, the possible health effects of which were under investigation as of 2013.[53]

In the contemporary process to make HFCS, an "acid-enzyme" process is used in which the corn starch solution is acidified to begin breaking up the existing carbohydrates, and then enzymes are added to further metabolize the starch and convert the resulting sugars to their constituents of fructose and glucose.[18]:808–813 A chemical used to separate corn starch from the kernel, lye was formerly manufactured using a process that included mercury, and scientists decided to investigate if HFCS used in food contained mercury. Two papers published in 2009 found that there were traces of inorganic mercury in some foods. However, the mercury was not methylmercury, the form of mercury that is of most concern to human health.[54]

Public relations[edit]

There are various public relations concerns 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.[55]

See also[edit]


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  48. ^ a b Toop, C. R.; Muhlhausler, B. S.; O'Dea, K.; Gentili, S. (2015-02-01). "Consumption of sucrose, but not high fructose corn syrup, leads to increased adiposity and dyslipidaemia in the pregnant and lactating rat". Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease 6 (1): 38–46. doi:10.1017/S2040174414000610. ISSN 2040-1752. PMID 25523154. 
  49. ^ "High-fructose corn syrup: What are the health concerns?". Mayo Clinic. 2012-09-27. Retrieved 2012-10-17. At this time, there's insufficient evidence to say that high-fructose corn syrup is any less healthy than other types of sweeteners. 
  50. ^ American Heart Association. Updated: Nov 19,2014 Added Sugars Quote: "The AHA recommendations focus on all added sugars, without singling out any particular types such as high-fructose corn syrup"
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  52. ^ Shepherd SJ, Gibson PR (2006). "Fructose malabsorption and symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome: guidelines for effective dietary management" (PDF). Journal of the American Dietetic Association 106 (10): 1631–9. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2006.07.010. PMID 17000196. 
  53. ^ Poulsen MW; et al. (Oct 2013). "Advanced glycation endproducts in food and their effects on health". Food Chem Toxicol 60: 10–37. doi:10.1016/j.fct.2013.06.052. PMID 23867544. 
  54. ^ By Miranda Hitti and Louise Chang for WebMD. January 27, 2009 Mercury in High-Fructose Corn Syrup?
  55. ^ FDA rejects industry bid to change name of high fructose corn syrup to "corn sugar"

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. 

External links[edit]