What is Hawaiian Punch sweetened with?

Hawaiian Punch is a fruit-flavored drink that has been around since the 1950s. It’s known for its bright red color and blend of fruit flavors like orange, guava, passionfruit, papaya, and pineapple. But what gives Hawaiian Punch its signature sweetness? Let’s take a closer look at the ingredients.

High Fructose Corn Syrup

The primary sweetener used in Hawaiian Punch is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). HFCS is a liquid sweetener made from corn that has undergone enzymatic processing. The end result is a sweet syrup that is sweeter and cheaper than regular sugar.

HFCS comes in different formulations, with HFCS-55 being the most commonly used in fruit-flavored drinks like Hawaiian Punch. HFCS-55 contains 55% fructose and 45% glucose. The higher fructose content provides an intensely sweet flavor that enhances the fruit flavors in the drink.

HFCS offers some advantages over regular sugar:

  • It’s very sweet, so you need less of it
  • It’s inexpensive to produce
  • It has a long shelf life

However, there are also some drawbacks. HFCS has been linked to increased obesity and diabetes rates when consumed in excess. It also doesn’t provide any nutritional value beyond calories and carbohydrates.

Natural Flavors

In addition to HFCS, Hawaiian Punch contains “natural flavors.” These flavors are likely derived from fruits and help to enhance the tropical fruit taste.

Common fruits used for natural flavors include:

  • Orange
  • Lemon
  • Lime
  • Pineapple
  • Mango
  • Guava
  • Passionfruit

Food scientists can isolate the aromatic compounds in these fruits responsible for their distinct smells and tastes. These natural chemicals are then used to formulate flavorings that recreate those fruit profiles.

Using natural fruit flavors allows Hawaiian Punch to reinforce the orange, guava, passionfruit, pineapple, and other fruit flavors advertised on the label. The flavors complement the sweetness of the HFCS.

Artificial Colors

Hawaiian Punch gets its vibrant red color from artificial coloring agents. Two commonly used dyes are Red 40 and Blue 1.

Red 40 provides a bold red color. However, too much Red 40 would look unnatural. So Blue 1 is added to tone down and darken the red. Together, these dyes produce a rich burgundy color resembling a tropical fruit punch.

While these artificial colors ensure a consistent and appetizing appearance, they offer no nutritional value. The safety of artificial dyes like Red 40 and Blue 1 has also faced scrutiny. But so far, government regulators have deemed them safe for use in food and beverages.


Hawaiian Punch also contains preservatives to prolong its shelf life:

  • Sodium Benzoate – Prevents mold and bacteria growth
  • Potassium Sorbate – Prevents fungi and yeast growth

Without these preservatives, Hawaiian Punch would spoil more rapidly from microbial contamination. Preservatives allow the drink to stay fresh and safe for consumption for months stored at room temperature.

Vitamin C

One ingredient you’ll see on the label is ascorbic acid, otherwise known as vitamin C. Hawaiian Punch contains added vitamin C to extend shelf life and provide a nutrient boost.

Vitamin C is very sensitive to light and air exposure. It can degrade over time after bottling. Adding extra vitamin C helps compensate for this loss.

The vitamin C in Hawaiian Punch provides around 60% of the recommended daily intake in a serving. So while Hawaiian Punch is high in added sugars, it does deliver a solid dose of this essential vitamin.


The base of Hawaiian Punch is water. Water helps dilute the sweeteners and natural flavors to create the right taste balance. It also provides the bulk of the volume at an affordable cost.


In summary, the primary sweetener used in Hawaiian Punch is high fructose corn syrup. This provides intense sweetness at a low cost. Natural fruit flavors complement the sweetness and recreate the tropical fruit flavors. Preservatives allow for long shelf life at room temperature. And added vitamin C provides a nutrient boost but also stabilizes the drink. The key ingredients work together to create the signature sweet fruity taste of this classic fruit punch.

How Does the Sweetness of Hawaiian Punch Compare to Soda and Juice?

Hawaiian Punch has a very high sugar content compared to most sodas and juices. Let’s look at how it compares:

Beverage (12 oz serving) Total Sugar (g)
Hawaiian Punch (Fruit Juicy Red) 44g
Coca-Cola 39g
Pepsi 41g
Orange Juice 21g
Apple Juice 28g

As you can see, Hawaiian Punch contains significantly more sugar per serving than soda and 100% fruit juices. The heavy use of high fructose corn syrup puts Hawaiian Punch at the top for added sugars.

The American Heart Association recommends no more than 24g or 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day for women and 36g or 9 teaspoons for men. One serving of Hawaiian Punch exceeds this limit.

While juices contain naturally-occurring sugars, Hawaiian Punch mostly derives its sweetness from added HFCS. This makes it an occasional treat rather than a daily drink. Moderating intake is key.

Is Hawaiian Punch Bad For You?

Given its heavy sugar content, some people believe Hawaiian Punch is unhealthy. But with moderation, it can be enjoyed as an occasional treat in an overall balanced diet.

Here are some of the main health concerns with Hawaiian Punch:

  • High calorie – Contains 180 calories per serving, almost entirely from added sugars.
  • Blood sugar spikes – The high fructose corn syrup causes rapid increases in blood glucose.
  • Weight gain – Excess calories from sugar can lead to obesity over time.
  • Tooth decay – The sugars interact with oral bacteria to demineralize enamel.
  • Lacks nutrients – Unlike juice, it provides calories without significant vitamins.

However, consumed occasionally in moderation, Hawaiian Punch can be incorporated into an overall healthy diet. The small serving size limits calorie intake. And some varieties are made with no high fructose corn syrup and fewer calories. Enjoying this nostalgic drink in moderation is key.

Alternatives to Hawaiian Punch

If you want to cut down on sugar but still enjoy fruit punch flavor, here are some healthier alternatives to Hawaiian Punch:

  • Make your own fruit punch with 100% juices like orange, pineapple, mango and a touch of lemon or lime for flavor. Add seltzer water to dilute.
  • Buy Hawaiian Punch reduced sugar varieties. They are sweetened with sucralose and contain 70% less sugar.
  • Try sparkling ice fruit punch flavored water for zero calories and sugar.
  • Mix fruit juice with fresh fruit like orange slices, pineapple chunks and raspberries.
  • Opt for flavored milk or coconut water punches with less added sugar.

With some creativity, you can still achieve delicious fruit punch flavor without all the added sugars found in regular Hawaiian Punch.

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