What is corn syrup in Korea?

Corn syrup is a sweetener made from corn starch that is commonly used in processed foods and beverages in many countries, including Korea. It is a glucose syrup made through the hydrolysis of cornstarch and goes through further processing to convert some of the glucose into fructose to achieve desired sweetness. Corn syrup has long been used as an inexpensive sweetener and thickening agent in Korea, though there are some health concerns related to its high fructose content.

How is corn syrup produced in Korea?

The production process of corn syrup in Korea is similar to other countries. It starts with corn starch being extracted from corn kernels. The starch goes through an enzyme hydrolysis process involving enzymes like alpha-amylase and glucoamylase which break down the starch into glucose molecules. The resulting glucose syrup is then converted into high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) by another enzymatic process involving xylose isomerase or glucose isomerase which converts some of the glucose into fructose. HFCS typically contains 42-55% fructose, with the rest being glucose and other saccharides.

Major Korean corn syrup manufacturers include Ingredion Korea, Tongaat Hulett Korea, Samyang Corporation, and CJ CheilJedang. These companies source corn starch from domestic crops as well as imports and have large production facilities to produce corn syrup products. The manufacturing process involves steeping the corn kernel, milling and screening the starch, liquefying and saccharifying the starch slurry via enzymes, and refining and converting the syrup into products like HFCS through filtration, ion exchange, and carbon treatment.

What are the different types of corn syrups used in Korea?

There are several different types and grades of corn syrups used in food manufacturing in Korea:

  • Glucose syrup – Made up of dextrose with glycemic index of 100. Available in various viscosities.
  • Maltose syrup – Contains maltose and some higher glucose polymers. Sweeter than glucose syrup.
  • Maltodextrin – Higher molecular weight glucose polymers. Used as a bulking agent.
  • Dextrin – Partial hydrolyzate of starch. Used as a stabilizer and thickener.
  • High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) – Most commonly used corn syrup. Contains 42-55% fructose.
  • Inverted syrup – Blend of glucose and fructose made by inverting sucrose. Sweeter than glucose.

Korean food companies utilize various corn syrups depending on the product requirements and nutritional profile they want to achieve. HFCS is most commonly used for its heightened sweetness, solubility, and moisture retention abilities.

What are the common uses of corn syrup in Korean foods?

Corn syrup is used in a wide variety of common Korean foods and beverages as a sweetener, humectant, and thickener:

  • Beverages – Soft drinks, fruit drinks, coffee mixes, soy milk, yogurt drinks
  • Bread and bakery items – Breads, cakes, muffins, cookies, cereal bars
  • Sauces and condiments – Soy sauce, chili paste, ketchup, mayonnaise, salad dressings
  • Confectionery – Candy, chocolate, jelly snacks, ice cream
  • Processed meats – Sausages, hams, canned meats
  • Canned foods – Fruits, sweet potatoes, beans
  • Others – Honey substitutes, protein bars, infant formula

Specific Korean foods utilizing corn syrup include:
– Cakes like chiffon cake and rolled cake

– Tteok (rice cakes)
– Jeon (Korean pancakes)

– Ganjang gejang (soy crabs)
– Jjajangmyeon (noodles in black bean sauce)
– Korean glazed ribs

The neutral flavor profile and moisture retention ability makes it well-suited for such applications. HFCS in particular adds enhanced sweetness and texture.

What is the yearly consumption per capita of corn syrup in Korea?

According to industry estimates, the per capita consumption of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in Korea is around 28 grams per day. This translates to an annual per capita consumption of about 10-11 kg per year.

Korea’s HFCS consumption is lower compared to some other major countries:

Country Per capita HFCS consumption (kg per year)
USA 33 kg
Japan 18 kg
China 6 kg
Korea 10-11 kg

The consumption of corn syrup and HFCS has been steadily rising in Korea over the past few decades. Back in the 1980s, the annual per capita consumption was estimated to be around 2-3 kg.

The increase in corn syrup and HFCS consumption mirrors the growth of the processed food industry and rising sugar intake from processed foods in the Korean diet. With the Korean processed food market expected to continue growing, corn syrup consumption may also rise gradually in the coming years if current dietary trends continue.

What are the health concerns related to corn syrup consumption?

There are some health concerns related to high consumption of corn syrup and HFCS:

  • Obesity and weight gain – Being a high calorie sweetener, overconsumption of HFCS can promote obesity. The heightened sweetness of HFCS in drinks and foods may also increase appetite and calorie intake.
  • Type 2 diabetes – Frequent HFCS intake is linked to insulin resistance and a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Cardiovascular disease – The glucose spikes caused by HFCS can increase risk factors for heart disease like inflammation and high blood triglycerides.
  • Fatty liver disease – Excess fructose from HFCS is associated with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
  • Dental cavities – HFCS can encourage tooth decay similar to other added sugars.

However, these health impacts depend largely on the overall diet. Moderate consumption as part of a balanced diet is considered safe for most people.

How does corn syrup fit within Korean dietary guidelines?

The 2020 Korean Dietary Guidelines by the Ministry of Health recommend limiting added sugar intake to under 10% of total daily calorie intake. This is around 50 grams or 12 teaspoons of added sugars for a standard 2000 calorie diet. The guidelines advise particular caution with beverage consumption as liquid sugars like those from corn syrup can easily exceed daily recommendations.

While corn syrup/HFCS is not singled out, the guidelines advise moderation of all added sugar sources including syrups. The Korean government also has initiatives to reduce sugars in processed foods and beverages – this may impact corn syrup and HFCS usage since they are major added sugars.

Within a balanced diet containing fiber, protein, and micronutrients, moderate amounts of corn syrup as an occasional sweetener are deemed acceptable. But excessive consumption from sugary drinks and foods on a regular basis goes against nutrition recommendations.

Summary of corn syrup in Korean dietary guidelines

  • Limit added sugars to under 10% of total calories
  • Care with beverage consumption as sugary drinks often exceed recommendations
  • Initiatives by government to reduce added sugars in processed foods/drinks
  • Moderation is key – small amounts occasionally are acceptable
  • High/frequent intake against nutrition recommendations

What are good corn syrup substitutes for cooking and baking?

Some alternatives to corn syrup that can be used in cooking and baking include:

  • Honey – Offers comparable sweetness, moisture retention, and viscosity. May impact flavor profile.
  • Maple syrup – Provides flavor and moisture. Not as sweet or thick.
  • Brown rice syrup – Made from brown rice. Contains maltose like corn syrup.
  • Coconut sugar syrup – Has caramel-like flavor. Similar properties to corn syrup.
  • Fruit juices/purees – Offer sweetness and can be reduced into thick syrups.
  • Agave nectar – Sweeter than sugar but does not crystallize.

When substituting corn syrup in recipes, you may need to experiment with ratios and account for differences in sweetness, moisture, and thickness. Honey and coconut sugar syrup tend to be the most direct substitutes in properties and performance.

Have Korean regulations changed regarding corn syrup additives in foods?

There have been some regulatory actions regarding corn syrups and additives in Korea:

  • In 2016, the Korea Food and Drug Administration (KFDA) removed HFCS from its Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) list due to health concerns. However, this has not resulted in bans as HFCS is still commonly used.
  • The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety introduced the ‘Positive List System’ in 2019. This restricts additives like HFCS and sorbitol in certain food categories unless expressly permitted.
  • Food manufacturers are required to list HFCS clearly on ingredient labels rather than using generic terms like ‘sugar’ or ‘glucose’. This provides more information to consumers.
  • In 2018, taxes were introduced on sugar-sweetened beverages, primarily targeting those containing HFCS like soda. This aims to reduce consumption, especially among children.

While not outright banned, these measures signal a desire by Korean authorities to regulate and reduce usage of corn syrup additives like HFCS in response to public health concerns.


Corn syrup has been part of processed foods in Korea for decades, with HFCS being the most widely used variety. Consumption levels have increased substantially from earlier periods. While corn syrup provides useful functional properties, there are concerns about overconsumption, especially from beverages, contributing to chronic diseases. Korean guidelines emphasize moderating intake of added sugars including corn syrup. Regulations are also gradually limiting corn syrup additives in food products to address public health issues. Moving forward, corn syrup is likely to remain an important sweetener and additive, but its usage may evolve as consumer awareness and new substitutes emerge.

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