Corn sugar is a fructose-free commodity — whereas high fructose corn syrup, well, isn’t

Posted by
September 27, 2011

In reading blog posts, news reports and opinion pieces, it’s clear that our information stream is anything but clear.

The terms corn syrup, corn sugar, HFCS and just plain syrup are being used haphazardly and interchangeably by both bloggers and professional journalists. Fifty million dollars buys a lot of advertising. And that big wad of money, spent by the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) in its attempt to deceive consumers by switching the name of high fructose corn syrup to “corn sugar,” has done one thing very well, confuse just about everyone.

Every consumer has the right to clear and correct food labeling. I’m not making this up. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says so, too. There are many important reasons people need to know what’s in the food they buy, but just wanting to know is good enough. Since the government got involved in officially overseeing names and claims made by manufacturers way back in 1906 with the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act, companies and trade associations have been fighting to have things their way.

Corn rules American Agriculture, and the Corn Refiners Association is a very powerful lobby. Elected state representatives from our corn belt states have sent in numerous comments to the FDA docket in support of this name switcheroo petition to rebrand HFCS “corn sugar” (with the interesting exception of Minnesota’s office of the Governor, first supporting the petition and then this May, changing its position to having no position).

This name game from the CRA is no little matter or just a case of semantics. It’s an extremely important attack on the rights of consumers to clear, truthful and consistent labeling. Your opinions are vital in this matter, so please let the FDA and FTC know how you feel about this.

To help clear things up, here is a short list of sweeteners, what they are, and what they are called.


The makers of Karo syrup want you to know that their product contains NO high fructose corn syrup!


HFCS is a man-made, highly-processed  laboratory-created concoction in which glucose in corn syrup is further fermented and processed to create a desired amount of much-sweeter fructose. (Fructose does not occur naturally in corn). The manufacturing of HFCS is a highly complicated process, but the product is typically less expensive than sugar. It was first created in the late 1950s and hit the marketplace during the ’70s as a sweetening ingredient in soft drinks, its use soon expanding to almost every conceivable processed food product. HFCS is either 42 or 55 percent fructose and not available for direct purchase by consumers.


Sloppy reporters and careless bloggers often incorrectly use the term “corn syrup” in referring to HFCS. Corn syrup is recognized by the FDA as a different ingredient, one derived from corn starch that is converted to glucose, the amount of which varies according to how much processing is done.

Corn syrup company Karo® goes to great lengths to let consumers know that their corn syrup product contains no HFCS (see photo).


First off, no matter what the CRA wants us to think, high fructose corn syrup is NOT “corn sugar”.  Corn sugar has long been  recognized as its own unique product – one that is comprised of dextrose (also called glucose) derived from corn starch. Corn sugar also contains NO fructose. It is used in home brewing, baking and cooking.


Sugar, one of the oldest natural sweeteners only comes from sugar-cane or sugar beets.

It seems the intent of the Corn Refiners Association is to blur these distinctions – and create, rather than alleviate, consumer confusion.