Is cane sugar the same as corn syrup?

Cane sugar and corn syrup are two common sweeteners used in food production, but they are not the same ingredient. While both add sweetness to foods and beverages, there are some key differences between these two sweeteners.

What is Cane Sugar?

Cane sugar, often referred to as just “sugar”, comes from sugar cane plants. The stalks of the sugar cane plant are crushed to extract the juice, which is then boiled down to form sugar crystals. These crystals are sucrose, a disaccharide made up of glucose and fructose molecules bonded together.

Common forms of cane sugar include:

  • White granulated sugar – the most common type used for baking, sweetening drinks, etc.
  • Brown sugar – refined white sugar with molasses added back in for flavor and color
  • Powdered sugar – granulated sugar ground into a fine powder
  • Raw sugar – minimally processed sugar retaining some molasses content

Cane sugar contains just sucrose and trace nutrients. It has a neutral sweetness and dissolves easily in liquids.

What is Corn Syrup?

Corn syrup is made from cornstarch derived from corn. The cornstarch goes through enzymatic and chemical processing to break it down into glucose syrup that is mostly glucose and maltose with longer glucose chains as well.

Types of corn syrup include:

  • High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) – contains more fructose than glucose
  • Glucose syrup – primarily glucose
  • Maltose syrup – primarily maltose

Corn syrup tends to be less sweet than sucrose while also being more viscous. It also does not crystallize like regular sugar. HFCS is the most commonly used type of corn syrup as a sweetener.

Nutritional Profile

Cane sugar and corn syrup have some differences in their nutritional makeup:

Nutrient Cane Sugar Corn Syrup
Calories 16 kcal per teaspoon 13 kcal per teaspoon
Carbs 4g per teaspoon 3.3g per teaspoon
Sugars 4g sucrose per teaspoon Varies by type (glucose, maltose, fructose)

As you can see, cane sugar is slightly more caloric and higher in carbohydrates than corn syrup. However, the sugars are what really differ. Cane sugar is pure sucrose, while corn syrup contains different ratios of glucose, maltose, and fructose depending on the type.

Taste and Texture

The different sugar makeup of cane sugar and corn syrup leads to some differences in taste and texture:

  • Taste – Cane sugar has a neutral, sweet taste. Corn syrup is less sweet than sucrose, with some types having more well-rounded caramel notes.
  • Texture – Cane sugar is crystalline while corn syrup has a thick, viscous texture. Corn syrup is effective at maintaining moisture in baked goods.
  • Solubility – Cane sugar readily dissolves in water. Corn syrup dissolves more slowly.

These attributes make each sweetener better suited for certain applications. Cane sugar provides pure sweetness that blends easily into beverages and adds crunch to baked goods. Corn syrup’s milder sweetness and moisture-maintaining abilities make it popular for soft baked goods, candies, jams, and icings.

Glycemic Index

The glycemic index (GI) measures how quickly a food raises blood sugar levels. Cane sugar and corn syrup affect blood sugar differently:

  • Cane sugar has a high GI around 65.
  • Corn syrup has a moderate GI around 50-60.

This means cane sugar causes a faster, more intense spike in blood sugar compared to corn syrup. However, glycemic response depends on more than just the GI, including serving size and other nutrients consumed.


Cane sugar and corn syrup have the following general cost differences:

  • Cane sugar is more expensive than corn syrup.
  • However, cane sugar is less processed so may be favored by some consumers despite the higher cost.
  • High fructose corn syrup is very inexpensive, making it appealing for mass-produced processed foods and beverages.

The low cost and long shelf life of HFCS has made it pervasive in the modern American diet. However, some health-conscious consumers prefer less processed cane sugar despite the higher prices.

Processing Methods

Cane sugar and corn syrup go through very different processing methods:

  • Cane sugar – Sugar cane stalks are crushed to extract raw cane juice, which is boiled down to form sugar crystals. These crystals are then refined to produce pure sucrose.
  • Corn syrup – Cornstarch is broken down enzymatically and chemically to isolate the glucose chains. Further processing produces various corn syrup products.

Cane sugar has less processing overall compared to corn syrup’s multi-step breakdown procedures. This allows some consumers to perceive cane sugar as more natural.

Uses in Food and Cooking

The unique properties of cane sugar and corn syrup make them suitable for the following uses:

  • Cane sugar – Sweetening beverages, baking cookies and cakes, sprinkling on top of foods, preserving jams and jellies.
  • Corn syrup – Candy production, ice cream, baked goods, barbecue sauce, salad dressings, cereals.

Cane sugar provides pure sweetness that complements both beverages and solid foods. Corn syrup’s properties make it a common ingredient in processed sweets and foods where texture and moisture retention are important.

Substituting Cane Sugar and Corn Syrup

In recipes, cane sugar and corn syrup cannot be directly substituted for each other at the same ratios. However, it is possible to replace one with the other using the following substitution guidelines:

  • Replace 1 cup corn syrup with 1 cup granulated cane sugar + 1/4 cup liquid (like water).
  • Replace 1 cup cane sugar with 3/4 cup corn syrup + 1/4 tsp baking soda.

Keep in mind that substituting can affect the moisture, texture, and flavor of a recipe. You may need to tweak other ingredients or methods to account for differences.


While cane sugar and corn syrup are both sweeteners used in the food industry, they have distinct differences when it comes to nutrition, taste, cost, processing methods, and best uses. Cane sugar comes straight from sugar cane plants and provides pure sucrose sweetness. Corn syrup is derived from cornstarch and contains varying ratios of glucose, maltose, and fructose depending on the type. These compositional differences give each sweetener advantages for certain applications.

In summary:

  • Cane sugar is slightly higher in calories and carbs than corn syrup and contains just sucrose versus corn syrup’s mix of sugars.
  • Cane sugar has a clean, neutral sweetness while corn syrup can have more complex, less intense sweetness.
  • Cane sugar has a higher glycemic index.
  • Cane sugar is more expensive, while HFCS is very inexpensive.
  • Cane sugar is less processed than corn syrup.
  • Cane sugar works well in beverages, baked goods, jams, and confections. Corn syrup is commonly used in commercial candy, ice cream, cereals, and processed foods.

While cane sugar and corn syrup shouldn’t be considered equivalent, both sweeteners have their place in the food industry and home kitchens.

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