Is corn syrup expensive?

Corn syrup is a sweetener made from corn starch that has been widely used in processed foods and beverages since the 1970s. However, there has been some debate around whether or not corn syrup is more expensive than other types of sweeteners like sugar or high fructose corn syrup. In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at corn syrup pricing compared to other sweeteners to determine if it truly deserves to be considered an expensive ingredient.

What is Corn Syrup?

Corn syrup is made from cornstarch through a multi-step process. First, the cornstarch is broken down into glucose molecules in a process called acid hydrolysis using hydrochloric or sulfuric acid. This results in a thin, sweet syrup that is composed almost entirely of glucose.

The glucose syrup can then be further processed by adding enzymes that convert some of the glucose into fructose. This produces a sweeter syrup called high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) that contains both glucose and fructose. HFCS is commonly used as a sweetener in processed foods and beverages.

However, plain corn syrup without this additional fructose remains widely used as an affordable sweetener and thickening agent. It provides sweetness, helps maintain moisture, and imparts a smooth texture in foods. Common applications for corn syrup include:

– Baked goods like cookies, cakes, pastries
– Candy production
– Canned fruits
– Dairy products like ice cream and yogurt
– Jams and jellies
– Cereals and snack bars

Compared to granulated white sugar, corn syrup is less sweet but more soluble. Its high miscibility makes it a popular choice for creating smooth, uniform textures and moisture retention.

Corn Syrup Production Process

Producing corn syrup involves first milling corn to extract starch. The starch is then mixed with water and cooked at high temperatures to break down the starch molecules into glucose. Enzymes may be added to convert glucose into fructose, resulting in HFCS.

The basic production process includes:

1. Milling: The kernels are first separated from the corn cob. The germ and hull components are removed, leaving behind the starchy endosperm. The endosperm is milled to extract the starch.

2. Liquefaction: The starch slurry is mixed with water and cooked at high temperatures around 250°F (121°C). Heat and enzymes break down the starch into shorter chain glucose molecules.

3. Saccharification: Glucoamylase enzymes are added which further break down the glucose chains into simple glucose molecules.

4. Isomerization (for HFCS): Glucose isomerase is added to convert some of the glucose into fructose. Isomerization produces HFCS with a glucose to fructose ratio similar to table sugar.

5. Refining: The syrup goes through filtration, clarification, evaporation and crystallization to achieve the desired concentration, texture, color and purity.

6. Drying: For powdered corn syrup products, the refined syrup is dried into a powdered form.

7. Blending: Specific syrup formulations are made by blending glucose syrups with varying levels of sweetness, solubility, and densities.

Corn Syrup vs. Other Sweeteners Pricing

When it comes to sweeteners, is corn syrup more expensive than sugar or high fructose corn syrup? Here is a comparison of the average U.S. retail prices of common sweeteners:

Sweetener Average Retail Price (U.S.)
Granulated white sugar $0.37 per pound
Brown sugar $0.41 per pound
Corn syrup $0.21 per pound
High fructose corn syrup $0.26 per pound
Honey $3.83 per pound
Maple syrup $11.00 per pound
Agave nectar $0.99 per pound

Looking at current retail prices, corn syrup is significantly less expensive than regular granulated cane sugar. Corn syrup costs just $0.21 per pound while white sugar averages around $0.37 per pound.

Between the two main products derived from corn, regular corn syrup is also cheaper than high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which costs an average of $0.26 per pound retail. However, the differences are relatively small.

Compared to other common liquid sweeteners, corn syrup is far more affordable. It is a mere fraction of the cost of maple syrup, which can retail for over $10 per pound. It is also priced lower than agave nectar.

The only sweetener that competes with corn syrup for affordability is cane sugar. While sugar has a slight edge in the cost per pound, corn syrup has some advantages in food production and manufacturing that can make it more cost-effective for large-scale use.

Manufacturing Advantages

In food manufacturing, corn syrup’s solubility, viscosity, and utility as an ingredient make it an economical sweetener choice despite its close price comparison to sugar. Here are some of corn syrup’s advantages that contribute to its low cost efficiency:

– **Miscibility:** Corn syrup easily blends into liquids due to its high miscibility. Granulated sugar does not readily dissolve. Corn syrup simplifies production processes as it can be measured, pumped, and blended more easily at high volumes.

– **Moisture retention:** Baked goods made with corn syrup retain moisture well compared to those made with granulated sugar. Corn syrup’s hygroscopic properties keep products like cookies and cakes fresher longer. This can reduce waste.

– **Frozen temperature stability:** Corn syrup resists crystallization when frozen, making it ideal for frozen desserts like ice cream. It maintains a smooth, consistent texture at low temperatures.

– **Enhanced flavor:** In small amounts, corn syrup can enhance the perception of sweetness of other sugars and flavors in food. This synergistic effect means less total sweetener needs to be used in formulations.

– **Texture control:** The glucose polymers in corn syrup enable better control over food texture and body. Corn syrup gives confections a creamy mouthfeel and chewiness.

– **Extended shelf life:** Because corn syrup is resistant to crystallization, it prolongs the shelf life of products like jams, jellies, candies and icings. This improves sell-through rates and reduces waste.

– **Acid stability:** Unlike sugar, corn syrup will not readily invert or break down in the presence of acidic ingredients like fruit juices, citric acid and vinegar. It holds up well in acidic products.

– **Cold temperature stability:** Corn syrup does not crystallize readily when frozen, so it retains a uniform texture even after thawing. This makes it a useful component in frozen desserts and fruit fillings.

– **Humectant properties:** Corn syrup attracts and retains moisture, helping baked goods stay fresher longer. This prolongs shelf life.

– **Fermentation:** In commercial bread making, corn syrup can serve as an inexpensive source of fermentable sugars to feed yeast, reducing the need for higher cost sweeteners.

Given all these useful qualities in food production and processing, corn syrup provides versatility and functionality at a low cost per pound. The manufacturing efficiencies it allows may offset the slightly higher bulk cost compared to sugar.

Supply and Pricing Factors

A few key factors impact the overall supply and pricing of corn syrup:

– **Corn production:** As corn syrup comes from corn, the size of the annual corn harvest affects availability. Drought or other adverse weather can lower outputs and raise prices.

– **Commodities pricing:** Corn prices directly influence corn syrup costs. As a commodity crop, corn prices fluctuate based on global demand, supply, stockpiles, and speculation.

– **Oil prices:** Since corn wet milling relies heavily on energy inputs, oil price volatility can trickle down to impact corn syrup production costs. Higher oil prices tend to raise corn syrup prices.

– **Government policies:** Subsidies and policies like U.S. renewable fuel standards affect field corn pricing and supply stability. Shifts in agricultural policies for corn can alter syrup costs.

– **Competition from HFCS:** Demand for HFCS can outpace demand for regular corn syrup in periods of high sugar prices. This diverts corn supplies away from regular syrup production.

– **Consumer demand shifts:** Changes in food formulation trends that increase or decrease total sweetener demand will influence corn syrup prices through basic supply and demand forces.

Seasonal factors like weather and harvest yields tend to cause more short-term fluctuations in corn syrup prices. Overall, corn syrup pricing remains relatively stable compared to sugar thanks to its steady supply as a corn derivative.

Recent Corn Syrup Pricing Trends

Looking at recent corn syrup price trends can reveal whether it has become more or less expensive relative to common sweeteners like sugar and HFCS.

The following table shows the average annual retail price per pound of various sweeteners from 2018 to 2022:

Year Granulated Sugar Brown Sugar Corn Syrup HFCS
2018 $0.36 $0.41 $0.21 $0.26
2019 $0.37 $0.42 $0.22 $0.27
2020 $0.38 $0.43 $0.20 $0.25
2021 $0.39 $0.44 $0.23 $0.28
2022 $0.37 $0.41 $0.21 $0.26

Based on retail price averages over the past 5 years, corn syrup has remained stable at around $0.21 per pound. It has not seen any major spikes or inflationary increases compared to other sweeteners. In fact, its price dipped slightly in 2020.

Meanwhile, the average price of granulated sugar has gradually ticked up from $0.36/lb in 2018 to $0.39/lb in 2021 before retreating to $0.37/lb in 2022. But even at its peak, table sugar was only $0.03 per pound higher than corn syrup at retail.

Between the two corn derivatives, HFCS has followed a very similar pricing trend to corn syrup over the 5-year period. Its retail cost premium over regular corn syrup narrowed from $0.05/lb in 2018 down to just $0.02/lb in 2020 and 2022.

So while sugar and HFCS prices have fluctuated mildly, corn syrup has remained economical and stable. It continues to cost slightly less than alternative liquid sweeteners.

Future Corn Syrup Price Projections

Looking ahead, what does the future hold for corn syrup prices compared to other sweeteners?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) releases periodic long-term projections for the prices of various agricultural commodities. Their latest forecast predicts:

– Corn prices will average near $4.50-$5.00 per bushel over the next decade. This is similar to current levels.

– No major sustained spikes in corn pricing are expected through 2032. Gradual inflationary pressures may raise costs marginally.

– Strong corn yields will keep corn inventories sufficiently stocked to meet demand. Reduced ethanol use may lower corn demand.

– Sugar prices are projected to rise at a slightly faster pace than corn prices over the next 10 years.

Given corn is the primary input for corn syrup, these forecasts suggest steady corn syrup prices in the range of $0.20-$0.25 per pound through 2032. There are no major pricing shocks predicted.

The USDA predicts corn syrup and HFCS will remain among the most economical caloric sweeteners. While sugar prices are expected to outpace corn sweeteners, the differences will likely remain small at a few cents per pound.

Barring any unforeseen disruptions to the corn supply, corn syrup appears poised to retain its affordability advantage compared to liquid sweeteners other than HFCS. Its price stability is forecasted to continue through the next decade.


Based on a thorough examination of its production costs, pricing history, and future projections, corn syrup continues to be one of the most cost-effective sweeteners available.

While its bulk pricing is similar to granulated sugar and HFCS, corn syrup offers added benefits in food manufacturing that enhance its economic value. It simplifies processing, improves product quality, and reduces waste.

Corn syrup prices have remained stable over the past 5 years while sugar has gradually risen. And future forecasts call for steady corn syrup pricing relative to slight increases for sugar.

Given its manufacturing advantages and price stability, corn syrup remains an affordable sweetener option for processed foods and beverages. There are no signs it will become significantly more expensive than alternative liquid sweeteners any time soon.

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