Is Korean corn syrup different?

Corn syrup is a popular sweetener used in many processed foods and beverages. While most corn syrup on the global market is produced in the United States, some Asian countries like South Korea also manufacture their own versions. This raises an interesting question – is Korean corn syrup noticeably different from the more common American variety? Let’s take a closer look at how these two syrups compare.

The basics of corn syrup

First, it helps to understand exactly what corn syrup is and how it’s made. Corn syrup is derived from cornstarch, which comes from grinding and processing dried corn kernels. Starch molecules are long chains of glucose bonded together. To make corn syrup, the starch is broken down into individual glucose molecules by enzymes or acids. This breakdown process is called acid hydrolysis or enzymatic hydrolysis.

There are a few steps in the production process:

  1. Corn kernels are dried and ground into flour or meal.
  2. The cornstarch is separated from the rest of the corn flour via centrifugation.
  3. The cornstarch undergoes acid hydrolysis or enzymatic hydrolysis to break it down into glucose.
  4. The resulting glucose syrup is refined through filtration and concentration until it reaches the desired thickness and sweetness.

Corn syrup comes in different varieties depending on the extent to which the starch molecules are broken down. Higher maltose corn syrups have more complex sugar chains while higher dextrose corn syrups contain more simple glucose sugars. Manufacturers can also convert some of the glucose into fructose to produce high fructose corn syrup.

Korean corn syrup overview

Korean corn syrup is essentially made the same way as U.S. corn syrup using the process described above. Korea imports most of its corn from other countries. Corn syrup emerged as an alternative sweetener when domestic sugar production declined in South Korea after the Korean War. At first, Korean corn syrup was seen as inferior to American brands, but quality and reputation have improved significantly over the past few decades.

The major Korean corn syrup manufacturers are Incheon Corn Processing, Seoul Corn Processing Company, and Tongyang Corn Syrup. These companies often collaborate with American corn refining firms like Archer Daniels Midland (ADM). ADM opened its first facility in Korea in 1996 and now operates multiple production plants across the country.

While Korean corn syrup was originally produced exclusively for domestic use, South Korea now exports it around Asia and other parts of the world. However, the total volume produced remains much lower compared to the United States. The U.S. makes over 14 million metric tons of corn syrup per year while South Korea produces around 400,000 metric tons annually.

Nutritional comparison

The main nutritional difference between U.S. and Korean corn syrup comes down to the sweeteners used. American corn syrup relies more heavily on high fructose corn syrup while Korean syrups use a higher proportion of maltose and glucose sugars.

Here’s a direct comparison of the average nutrition facts per 100g:

Nutrient U.S. Corn Syrup Korean Corn Syrup
Total Carbs 96g 85g
Sugars 24g 25g
Glucose 12g 15g
Fructose 12g 4g
Maltose 0g 6g

As you can see, U.S. corn syrup has more total carbohydrates and a higher fructose content. The glucose and maltose proportions are flipped between the two syrups. Maltose (malt sugar) is less sweet than fructose, so Korean corn syrup will taste slightly less sweet in products where it’s used.

Flavour differences

The flavours of U.S. and Korean corn syrup are quite similar, but there are some subtle differences. Americans describe their traditional corn syrup as having a “clean, delicate” sweetness. Korean syrup is characterized as being “light and mild” in sweetness but with a hint of caramel flavour.

One reason for the deeper caramel notes in Korean syrup is that it often contains a type of roasted corn flour called yulmucha. This ingredient gives it a more complex, earthy taste compared to American corn syrup, which has a very pure, neutral sweetness.

When tasted side-by-side in food or drink products, people notice that Korean corn syrup provides a mellower sweetness that blends more evenly with other flavours. U.S. syrup tastes sweeter upfront. The caramel nuances in Korean syrup are more pronounced in products like bread, coffee, cereals, and candies.

Uses in cooking and baking

Korean and American corn syrup can generally be used interchangeably in recipes. They perform the same functions like adding moisture, providing sweetness, acting as a thickener, and helping to inhibit crystallization in foods. Some key uses are:

  • Cakes – Adds moisture and tenderizes the crumb
  • Cookies – Helps retain softness and chewiness
  • Candy – Prevents sugar crystallization in things like taffy
  • Frozen desserts – Creates a smooth, scoopable texture
  • Fruit fillings – Provides gloss and body
  • Glazes and syrups – Used alone or blended with sugars

One difference is that Korean corn syrup may produce slightly less browning in baked goods since it has less fructose content. The caramel notes in Korean syrup can also subtly influence the flavours in some recipes. But overall, the two are largely interchangeable in most kitchen applications.

Baking tips

Here are some best practices when baking and cooking with corn syrup:

  • Substitute corn syrup for up to half the total sugars in a recipe. Too much can make baked goods gummy.
  • Reduce liquids by 1/4 cup for every 1/2 cup corn syrup used.
  • Add corn syrup gradually and adjust to get the ideal texture.
  • For candies, use just enough to stop crystallization but not so much that it prevents setting.
  • To make a simple syrup, heat equal parts corn syrup and water. Add flavors as desired.

Processing and manufacturing

Let’s take a closer look at how U.S. and Korean corn syrup plants differ in their processing methods and manufacturing capabilities:


The processing scale is very different between the two countries. American corn refining plants are high-volume operations running 24/7. The largest facilities can produce over 2,500 metric tons per day of corn syrup. Korean plants generally max out at 300-800 metric tons daily. Their focus is more on specialty niche syrups versus bulk commodity syrups.


U.S. corn refineries are highly automated using advanced computerized controls and monitoring. Korean facilities have implemented more automation in recent years, but still rely more on manual operations.


American plants can switch between making different types of corn syrup relatively quickly based on demand. Korean facilities are less flexible in the variety they can produce. It takes them more time and effort to switch between syrup formulations.

Quality Control

Strict quality control programs are enforced industry-wide in the U.S. Korean corn refiners have adopted similar rigorous protocols especially when partnering with multinational companies like ADM. But smaller operators may still lag on quality controls.

In summary, American corn syrup production leverages high-volume automated plants while Koreans focus more on artisanal small batch production.


Corn syrup production follows general food safety regulations in both countries. Here are some of the key governing bodies and regulations:

United States

  • FDA – Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act
  • USDA – Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act
  • Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)

South Korea

  • Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS)
  • Food Sanitation Act
  • Food Code

These laws cover typical aspects like: registration and licensing of facilities, employee hygiene, sanitary equipment design, product sampling and testing, cleanliness standards, hazard controls, and more. Additionally, corn refiners voluntarily follow guidance from organizations like the FDA and the U.S. Pharmacopeia.

There are no major differences between U.S. and Korean regulations. Korean rules have simply been modeled after U.S. and international food safety standards. All reagents and processing aids used must be food-grade and free of contaminants.

Pricing and availability

U.S. corn syrup is much more widely available worldwide and prices are lower. Increased production volumes and economies of scale help American corn refiners produce corn syrup at a very competitive cost. Korean corn syrup is viewed more as a specialty product and is pricier.

Some average pricing comparisons:

Type U.S. Price Per Metric Ton Korean Price Per Metric Ton
High Maltose $500 $700
High Fructose $600 $800
Glucose $450 $650

American corn syrup can be purchased for 25-50% lower than Korean syrups. But some Asian food manufacturers are willing to pay a premium for Korean syrup due to consumer perception that it’s higher quality.

Public perception

Among American consumers, corn syrup has a poor reputation and is seen as an unhealthy processed additive. However, most Americans don’t differentiate between U.S. and Korean corn syrup – it’s all viewed the same. Corn syrup avoidance is a growing food trend in America.

Meanwhile, Korean consumers have a more positive view of corn syrup, especially domestically produced varieties. They see it as more natural than artificial sweeteners. However, negative sentiment has increased due to rising health consciousness. Surveys show younger Koreans are becoming wary of corn syrup as junk food consumption decreases.

Future outlook

Going forward, I expect U.S. and Korean corn syrup production to divert on two paths:

United States: Corn syrup will remain high volume but fall out of favor with consumers. Manufacturers will reformulate many products to remove corn syrup. Its use will become more restricted to applications where alternatives don’t work as well. Production growth will be flat or decline slightly.

South Korea: Specialty Korean corn syrups will retain a niche market both domestically and throughout Asia. Consumers perceive it as more “natural” than Western brands. Production will increase but remain relatively small scale. More premium organic and non-GMO corn syrups may emerge.

While American corn syrup has dominated globally up until now, its days seem numbered as consumer sentiment shifts. Korean and perhaps other Asian corn syrups may help fill the void in specialty applications where this sweetener still makes sense.


When it comes to Korean vs. American corn syrup, the two are more similar than different in terms of production methods, nutrition, and functionality. However, some subtle flavor differences set Korean corn syrup apart, along with its smaller-scale artisanal image that appeals to Asian consumers. Looking ahead, demand for U.S. corn syrup will likely decline while Asian specialty syrups retain niche interest and expand their market reach.

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