What strain is high fructose corn syrup?

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is not a “strain” of anything. It is a sweetener made from corn that has been processed to convert some of its glucose into fructose. This process creates a syrup that is sweeter than regular corn syrup. There are different ratios of fructose to glucose in HFCS, with HFCS-42 and HFCS-55 being the most common.

What is high fructose corn syrup?

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a sweetener made from corn starch. Regular corn syrup contains only glucose, while HFCS has had some of its glucose converted into fructose enzymatically. This makes HFCS sweeter than regular corn syrup. The most commonly used varieties of HFCS include:

  • HFCS-42: Contains 42% fructose and 58% glucose
  • HFCS-55: Contains 55% fructose and 45% glucose

HFCS is commonly used as a sweetener in processed foods and soft drinks. It is able to provide sweetness equivalent to table sugar (sucrose) but at a lower cost. HFCS is also advantageous for food manufacturing because it is easy to blend, transport, and incorporate into foods and beverages.

How is high fructose corn syrup made?

HFCS is produced from corn starch through enzymatic processing. Here are the basic steps:

  1. Corn kernels are milled to extract corn starch.
  2. The starch is mixed with water to make a suspension.
  3. Enzymes are added to break down the starch into glucose.
  4. More enzymes convert some of the glucose into fructose.
  5. The resulting syrup goes through centrifugation, filtration, and concentration until the desired sweetness and sugar ratios are achieved.

The enzymes used in the production of HFCS allow specific amounts of glucose to be converted into fructose. This lets manufacturers create HFCS varieties with different fructose-to-glucose ratios, such as 42% fructose or 55% fructose.

Chemistry of HFCS Production

The key enzymes used to produce HFCS are as follows:

  • Alpha-amylase – Breaks down starch into shorter carbohydrate chains
  • Glucoamylase – Breaks carbohydrates down into glucose molecules
  • Glucose isomerase – Converts glucose into fructose

These enzymes enable the step-by-step conversion of corn starch into a syrup rich in fructose and glucose in specific proportions.

What are the health concerns around high fructose corn syrup?

There is ongoing debate about whether high fructose corn syrup poses specific health risks compared to regular sugar (sucrose). Here are some of the concerns that have been raised:

Metabolic Effects

  • Some research suggests the body metabolizes HFCS differently than sucrose, leading to increased fat storage and other metabolic changes. However, other studies found no significant differences.
  • The higher fructose content of HFCS (55% fructose) compared to sucrose (50% fructose) may be a factor in metabolic differences. Excess fructose intake has been associated with increased risks for obesity, diabetes, and other health issues in some studies.

Contribution to Obesity

  • The rise in use of HFCS in the American diet since the 1970s has paralleled increasing rates of obesity.
  • HFCS is thought to contribute to overeating and weight gain due to its sweetness, effects on appetite hormones, and lack of triggering fullness signals compared to naturally sweet foods.
  • However, sucrose and other factors also play major roles, so the degree HFCS specifically contributes to obesity is unclear.

Nutrient Value

  • Unlike sucrose from sugar cane or sugar beets, HFCS provides empty calories without vitamins, minerals, fiber, or other nutrients.
  • Heavy usage of HFCS may contribute to nutritionally poor diets and associated health risks.

Overall, moderation of all sweeteners, including HFCS, is recommended as part of a healthy diet. Replacing HFCS with alternative sweeteners may offer some benefits but does not guarantee improved health on its own.

What are the different grades of high fructose corn syrup?

There are several different grades of HFCS that contain varying ratios of fructose and glucose. The main grades used are:


  • Contains 42% fructose and 58% glucose
  • Mostly used in beverages


  • Contains 55% fructose and 45% glucose
  • Most commonly used form of HFCS
  • Common in soft drinks, baked goods, jams, sauces and other processed foods


  • Contains 90% fructose and 10% glucose
  • Added to foods to boost sweetness without significantly raising glucose levels
  • Found in some fruit drinks, jams, and sweetened dairy products

There are also some intermediate HFCS blends, such as HFCS-65 which contains 65% fructose, used for specific applications.

The different HFCS grades provide food manufacturers flexibility in finding the optimal sweetness, consistency, stability, and fermentability characteristics needed for their products.

How does high fructose corn syrup compare to table sugar?

Both HFCS and table sugar (sucrose) are added sweeteners that provide empty calories. Here’s how they compare:


  • HFCS-55 is equivalent in sweetness to sucrose.
  • HFCS-42 is slightly less sweet than sucrose.


  • Table sugar is 50% fructose and 50% glucose.
  • HFCS-55 is 55% fructose and 45% glucose.
  • HFCS-42 is 42% fructose and 58% glucose.


  • HFCS and table sugar contain approximately 4 Calories per gram.


  • HFCS is cheaper to produce than sucrose from cane or beets.
  • This makes HFCS attractive to food manufacturers looking to control costs.

While the composition of HFCS and table sugar is slightly different, they are nutritionally similar in calories and sweetness. Both should be moderated as part of an overall healthy diet.

Is high fructose corn syrup banned in other countries?

High fructose corn syrup is not banned in most parts of the world, but its use is much lower in some countries compared to the United States. Estimated per capita consumption per year:

Country HFCS Consumption (lbs per person)
United States 60
Canada 44
Mexico 34
Saudi Arabia 15
Germany 5
France 1
Italy Less than 1

Reasons for lower HFCS consumption elsewhere include:

  • Higher sugar prices in the EU make HFCS less cost-competitive.
  • Fructose is taxed higher than glucose in some European countries.
  • Consumer preference for cane sugar in some markets.
  • EU production quotas and import limits on HFCS.

While limited by economic and regulatory factors, HFCS remains an approved food additive in Europe and most other major markets outside the U.S.

Is high fructose corn syrup natural?

High fructose corn syrup is not considered a natural sweetener, since it is produced through intensive enzymatic processing transforming corn starch into fructose and glucose.

However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does classify HFCS as a natural ingredient rather than an artificial or synthetic sweetener. This is because HFCS is made from corn, which is a natural raw material, and does not contain artificial chemicals.

Critics argue that the extensive processing needed to make HFCS makes it unnatural, even if the original corn source is natural. The FDA’s stance is that as long as no artificial reagents are used in production, HFCS can be classified as a natural ingredient.

HFCS vs. Natural Sweeteners

Compared to sweeteners occuring naturally, key differences of HFCS include:

  • HFCS is produced through enzymatic reactions rather than being directly extracted from plants.
  • It does not exist as a sweet substance in nature.
  • The 42-55% fructose content is higher than most naturally occuring sugars.
  • It lacks vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other plant components.

While HFCS is approved as a natural FDA food additive, consumers often prefer sweeteners that are naturally derived with minimal processing, such as cane sugar, honey, or maple syrup.

Is high fructose corn syrup GMO?

Most high fructose corn syrup today is made from genetically modified corn. However, HFCS can also be produced from non-GMO corn varieties.

GMO Corn and HFCS

  • Around 92% of corn grown in the U.S. is genetically engineered.
  • Common GM traits make corn resistant to herbicides and insect pests, increasing yields.
  • Since HFCS is made from corn starch, the raw material is predominantly from GMO corn.


  • HFCS can also be made from non-GMO corn, which accounts for around 8% of U.S. corn acres.
  • Non-GMO HFCS is available but more expensive than standard HFCS.
  • A few food brands specialize in non-GMO HFCS as an alternative for consumers wanting to avoid GMOs.

So while most HFCS is made from GMO corn, non-GMO versions are possible as well. Both are considered equivalent in composition and nutritional value by regulators.

What are the healthiest alternatives to high fructose corn syrup?

For consumers wanting to avoid HFCS, some healthier sweetener alternatives include:


  • Provides trace vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants
  • Has a lower glycemic index than HFCS
  • Use mild-flavored honeys for cooking/baking

Maple Syrup

  • Rich in antioxidants such as polyphenols
  • Has anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects in research studies
  • Has a low glycemic index score

Monk Fruit Sweetener

  • Natural sweetener extracted from monk fruits
  • Contains no calories or carbs
  • Up to 300x sweeter than sugar


  • Extracted from stevia plant leaves
  • No calories, kilojoules, or carbohydrates
  • Up to 300x sweeter than sugar

Pairing these less processed sweeteners with foods rich in fiber, protein, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals can help mitigate negative effects of sugars and refined carbs.


In summary, high fructose corn syrup is not a “strain” or variant form of sugar. Rather, it is a highly processed sweetener produced by converting corn starch into varying ratios of fructose and glucose using enzymes. While HFCS and table sugar are compositionally similar, HFCS production is able to undercut sucrose prices for food manufacturers. This has made it pervasive as an added sweetener in processed foods and beverages. However, health concerns remain regarding potential differences in how the body metabolizes HFCS compared to natural fructose sources. While HFCS is classified as “natural” by the FDA, many consumers prefer alternative sweeteners that are less processed.

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